Somber procession for Reagan

WASHINGTON – With all the pageantry of Washington’s first state funeral in three decades, Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional leaders stood before the flag-draped coffin of Ronald Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday night to honor the two-term president as a giant of his time.

“We will all remember him as an unparalleled leader and an exceptional man who lifted our nation and set the world on a new path,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, told the hushed crowd, including former first lady Nancy Reagan and other members of the Reagan family as well as scores of U.S. and foreign dignitaries.

“Ronald Reagan was more than just a historical figure. He was a providential man who came along just when our nation, and our world, needed him,” said Cheney beside the light-bathed and flag-draped coffin.

“Fellow Americans, here lies a graceful and a gallant man.”

The invitation-only ceremony – attended largely by members of the Cabinet, Congress, Supreme Court and diplomatic corps – marked the formal start of the state funeral for Reagan, 93, who died Saturday in California, and opened the 34-hour period of Reagan’s lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

It was the first time a former president has lain in state under the Capitol dome, since Lyndon Johnson died in 1973.

Reagan’s body was flown to Washington earlier in the day and brought to the Capitol by hearse and then by a horse-drawn artillery caisson built in 1918 to carry provisions and ammunition – a tradition-rich ritual that dates to the mid-19th century.

The former first lady emerged from a limousine to a wave of applause, and stood stock-still, looking drained, as the coffin was loaded onto the caisson.

A Maryland man in the crowd yelled, “God bless you, Nancy!”

Behind the carriage trailed Sgt. York, the horse with an empty saddle and Reagan’s own riding boots reversed in the stirrups to symbolize a warrior who will ride no more and looks back a final time on his troops.

Crowds stood 15 deep on each side of Constitution Avenue.

Overhead, 21 fighter jets screamed by in four formations, a wingman breaking away and rocketing upward to signify the loss of a comrade.

Up ahead, dignitaries waited at the Capitol, watching on television. Reagan’s last White House chief of staff, Ken Duberstein, found himself marveling at the spectacle. “I keep thinking President Reagan would say, ‘Aw shucks – for me?’” he said.

Cannon fired upon his body’s arrival at the home of Congress, sending smoke cascading into the steamy evening air.

The coffin, placed atop a plain pine catafalque that was first used for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln, will be on public view until Friday morning, when it will be moved to the National Cathedral and then flown back to California for burial.

The Rotunda ceremony began at dusk, shortly after Reagan’s casket was carried by military servicemen, in a two-team relay, up the steep steps of the Capitol’s West Front, where Reagan first took the oath of office as president in January 1981. After an opening prayer by House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin, the crowd of dignitaries heard speeches by three officials chosen by the Reagan family: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Stevens and Cheney.

All three took special note of Reagan’s optimistic spirit, idealism and commitment to core values and said these characteristics led him to notable achievements, foreign and domestic.

“President Reagan dared to dream that America had a special mission,” Hastert said. “He believed in the essential goodness of the American people and that we had a special duty to promote peace and freedom for the rest of the world.” With these beliefs, Reagan “helped make our country and this world a better place to live.”

“His story and his values are quintessentially American,” Hastert added.

Cheney said Reagan never shared the pessimism of some that the Cold War would never end. “It was the vision and will of Ronald Reagan that gave hope to the oppressed, shamed the oppressor and ended an ‘evil empire,’” Cheney added, using the words Reagan employed to describe the Soviet Union before it collapsed shortly after he left office.

Nancy Reagan, escorted out of the Rotunda by Cheney, stopped briefly to run her hand along her husband’s coffin and pat it. A few minutes later, Reagan’s son Michael came up to the casket, bent down and kissed it.

President Bush, who was attending the Group of Eight summit in Sea Island, Ga., did not participate in the ceremony but plans to visit the Rotunda tonight, according to White House aides.

After the private ceremony, doors of the Capitol were opened to citizens who had begun lining up since before dawn Wednesday for a chance to file by his casket.

Many of those people lost their place in line when police suddenly cleared the Capitol about 1 1/2 hours before the start of the funeral procession, fearing an airplane was headed for the building. Officials determined within minutes that a small plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher to the funeral had lost its radio transmission after flying into restricted airspace.

The public commemoration of Reagan will continue through Friday’s funeral at Washington National Cathedral. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Prince Charles have accepted invitations.

Lech Walesa, the former Polish leader whose anti-communist Solidarity movement thrilled Reagan during the last years of the Soviet empire, will attend, as will the last premier of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Marysville
1 pedestrian dead after car crash on I-5 south of Marysville

Around 5 p.m., a car crashed into a pedestrian along I-5. Investigators believed a man had parked on the shoulder to refuel.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Do Snohomish County lawmakers want a 2020 presidential rematch?

The Herald contacted seven Republican legislators representing parts of Snohomish County about their primary choice. Five did not respond.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Flowers for slain trooper Chris Gadd begin to collect outside Washington State Patrol District 7 Headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Police: Lynnwood man consumed marijuana, beer before crash into trooper

Trooper Chris Gadd, 27, was stopped along I-5 when he was hit and killed early Saturday. Troopers suspect Raul Benitez Santana was impaired.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside WSP District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed in a collision on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State trooper killed, 1 arrested in crash on I-5 near Marysville

Authorities said Trooper Chris Gadd had been stopped along the freeway around 3 a.m. near 136th Street NE. A Lynnwood driver, 32, was arrested.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.