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On the morning of June 5, 2004, there were reports that Reagan's health had significantly deteriorated, following nine years of Alzheimer's disease. According to Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, "At the last moment, when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that hadn't opened for days did, and they weren't chalky or vague. They were clear and blue and full of love. If a death can be lovely, his was." His wife, former First LadyNancy Reagan told him that the moment was "the greatest gift you could have given me." He died of pneumonia at his home at 13:09 PDT, at the age of 93.
This is a sad hour in the life of America. A great American life has come to an end. I have just spoken to Nancy Reagan. On behalf of our whole nation, Laura and I offered her and the Reagan family our prayers and our condolences. Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness, and won its love with his goodness. He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save. During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny. Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you. He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too. His work is done, and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.
Various U.S. flags at the White House, across the United States, and around the world over official U.S. installations and operating locations, were ordered to be flown at half-staff for 30 days in a presidential proclamation by President Bush. In the announcement of Reagan's death, Bush also declared June 11 as a "National Day of Mourning."
Tributes and condolences were left at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, as well as at places around the country significant to Reagan's life, including his presidential library, his birthplace in Tampico, Illinois, the funeral home where his body was taken after he died, and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house in Eureka, Illinois.
Reagan's casket, a Marsellus Masterpiece model, was carried by a military honor guard representing all branches of the United States Armed Forces into the lobby of the library to lie in repose. There, a brief family service was conducted by the Reverend Dr. Michael H. Wenning, former pastor of Bel Air Church, where Reagan worshipped. When the prayer service concluded, Nancy Reagan and her family approached the casket, where Nancy laid her head on it. After the family left, the doors of the presidential library opened, and the public began filing in at a rate of 2,000 an hour throughout the night. In all, about 108,000 people visited the presidential library to see the casket.
Departure to Washington
On June 9, Reagan's casket was removed from the presidential library and driven in a motorcade to NAS Point Mugu in Oxnard, California; it was the same airfield Reagan flew into and out of during his presidency when visiting his California ranch. SAM 28000, one of the two Boeing 747-200s, which usually serves the president as Air Force One, arrived to transport the casket to Washington. Thousands of people gathered to witness the plane's departure. Just before she boarded the VC-25A Presidential Aircraft, Nancy Reagan waved to the crowd with her military escort at her side. The plane lifted off at about 9:40 am PST.
Just before the plane arrived at Andrews AFB, the U.S. Capitol was evacuated for a brief period, when a plane carrying Kentucky GovernorErnie Fletcher was reported off course and created a scare by entering restricted airspace; the incident was attributed to radio problems on board the plane and did not affect funeral events.
Near the Ellipse, and within sight of the White House, the hearse halted and Reagan's body was transferred to a horse-drawn caisson for the procession down Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill. Nancy Reagan stepped out of her limousine to witness the casket's transfer; she was met with a warm greeting, including applause. The cortege began the 45-minute journey just after 6:00 pm EST, with the Reagan family following in limousines. Military units escorted the caisson as it made its way to the sounds of muffled drums. Behind the caisson was a riderless horse named Sergeant York, carrying Reagan's riding boots reversed in the stirrups. The caisson paused at 4th Street and Constitution Avenue, where 21 Air Force F-15's from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, flew over in missing man formation.
When the casket reached the top of the steps, Nancy Reagan and her military escort met it. As the casket passed them, Nancy momentarily pulled away from her escort, reached out, and touched the casket. They followed it inside to the rotunda.
After the eulogies, the three speakers each laid a wreath at the casket, and the Senate Chaplain, Pastor Barry Black, gave the benediction. Cheney escorted Nancy Reagan to the casket, where she said her goodbyes. The dignitaries in the room paid their respects during the next half-hour. In a rare instance, the doors of the Capitol were then opened to the public, who stood in lines stretching many blocks to view the casket.
The general public stood in long lines waiting for a turn to pay their respects to the president. About 5,000 per hour passed the casket, after waiting up to seven hours. In all, 104,684 paid their respects when Reagan lay in state.
While Reagan's casket lay in state, Nancy Reagan and her family took up temporary residence in Blair House, the official residence of guests of the President of the United States. There, she was greeted by additional dignitaries and public figures. During a visit from Thatcher, the former Prime Minister wrote in the Blair House condolence book, "To Ronnie, Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
After 34 hours of lying in state, the doors of the Capitol were closed to the public and Nancy Reagan was escorted in, where she had a moment alone with the casket. A military honor guard entered and carried it down the west steps of the Capitol to a 21-gun salute where Nancy, holding her hand over her heart, met it. After it was placed in a hearse, the motorcade departed on the five-mile-trip (8 km) to the Washington National Cathedral, where the state funeral service was to be held; crowds lined the route of the cortege as the hearse made its way.
The motorcade arrived at the Cathedral and Reagan's casket was removed. The bearers carrying it paused on the Cathedral steps, and an opening prayer was given by BishopJohn Bryson Chane, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. The casket was then carried down the aisle; the Reagan family followed and Nancy Reagan was escorted to her seat by President Bush. RabbiHarold Kushner and Supreme Court Associate JusticeSandra Day O'Connor (the first female Supreme Court justice, whom Reagan appointed), then each gave a reading, which preceded the eulogies. The choir then sang hymns--"Faire is the Heaven"; "Bring Us, O Lord"; "And I saw a New Heaven"--before Thatcher delivered the first eulogy. In view of her failing mental faculties following several small strokes, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier and was broadcast throughout the Cathedral on plasma television screens. During the speech, Thatcher said, "We have lost a great president, a great American and a great man, and I have lost a dear friend."
Following Thatcher's eulogy, Mulroney delivered his, ending with: "In the presence of his beloved and indispensable Nancy, his children, his family, his friends and all of the American people that he so deeply revered, I say au revoir today to a gifted leader and historic president and a gracious human being."
Former President George H. W. Bush then spoke, his voice breaking at one point when describing Reagan; Bush had been Reagan's Vice President from 1981 to 1989, and his successor as President. His son, President George W. Bush, was the last to give a eulogy, saying in part, "Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us... In his last years he saw through a glass darkly. Now he sees his Savior face to face. And we look for that fine day when we will see him again, all weariness gone, clear of mind, strong and sure and smiling again, and the sorrow of this parting gone forever."
After the service, the casket was driven to Andrews Air Force Base, passing crowds along its route. The family and close friends boarded the VC 25-A Presidential Aircraft, and as she had done previously, Nancy Reagan waved farewell to the crowds just before boarding the plane.
After Nancy Reagan accepted the flag, she approached the casket and spent several minutes patting and stroking it. She laid her head down on the casket, before breaking down and crying; The Washington Post described Nancy as having been "stoic through nearly a week of somber rituals" but she "surrendered to her grief after being handed the flag that had covered her husband's coffin." While she cried, she kissed the casket and said "I love you". Her children surrounded her, and attempted to console her. Nancy then walked away with her military escort, clutching the folded flag. The military band began to play the Victorian hymn "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" as the Reagan children said their goodbyes. Funeral attendees had an opportunity to file past the coffin.
The casket was lowered into the vault and closed at 3:00 am PDT the next day. The exterior of the horseshoe-shaped monument is inscribed with a quote Ronald Reagan delivered in 1991:
I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.
The majority of those commemorating Reagan were supporters of his, although not all held the 40th president in high regard. In one noted example, Paul Mays, a retired engineer who never thought much of Reagan's politics, witnessed the motorcade leave the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base; he commented "This is history". Frank Dubois, an American University professor, also was there for the motorcade, though of the laudatory praise he remarked, "[Reagan] hurt the environment; there was double-digit inflation. I just don't get it."
The majority of media coverage of the event was deferential. Most major news organizations broadcast the various events live multiple times; during the week, the cable channel C-SPAN broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the funeral ceremonies. A few complained, however, that the television coverage was excessive and preempted coverage of other events. CBS NewsanchorDan Rather was quoted as saying: "Even though everybody is respectful and wants to pay homage to the president, life does go on. There is other news, like the reality of Iraq. It got very short shrift this weekend." Throughout the week, media experts reported that the national mourning, televised nearly non-stop on many television networks, provided Americans welcome respite from unhappy reports that American troops were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving them a sense of good news they had been desperate for since the September 11 attacks.
Reagan's obituaries also included a few criticisms. Richard Goldstein of The Village Voice criticized the funeral for its careful orchestration, writing, "Because the networks had so long to plan for this production... this was the most precisely mounted news event in modern times. Each gesture was minutely choreographed, every tear strategically placed."
Additionally, some media outlets were criticized for lionizing Reagan without paying equal attention to more controversial decisions made during his administration. Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland, College Park's journalism college, wrote in A magazine that the coverage "would have you believe that Reagan was a cross between Abe Lincoln and Mother Teresa, with an overlay of Mister Rogers."Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post's media columnist, said Reagan was "a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest."The Nation ran a series of articles about the many controversies of his presidency.
^Low, Valentine (8 June 2004). "Nancy says goodbye; She touched her cheek on coffin draped in US flag". Evening Standard [London (UK)]. p. 17. A planned appearance by Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon was postponed indefinitely.
^Beesley, Arthur (June 7, 2004). "Ahern salutes a 'determined opponent of communism'". The Irish Times. p. 11. 'President Reagan was proud of his Irish heritage and during his time in the White House, he celebrated St Patrick's Day with great ceremony. In 1984, President Reagan visited Ireland, an occasion still remembered with great fondness by many here.'
^Koring, Paul (June 7, 2004). "State funeral for Reagan expected to rival JFK's". The Globe and Mail. p. A1. After almost a week of mourning, Americans will bid a final farewell to former president Ronald Reagan with a full state funeral Friday, an event expected to be the largest ceremonial occasion in the U.S. capital since the funeral of John F. Kennedy more than 40 years ago.
^Seelye, Katharine (June 12, 2004). "Service Draws a Mix of the Elite, Some Solemn, Some Social". The New York Times. p. A10. Caroline Kennedy...seemed to pass unnoticed...as she and her husband, Edwin A. Schlossberg...Now 46, Ms. Kennedy was just turning 6 at the time of the state funeral for her father in 1963.
^Shister, Gail (June 8, 2004). "Network anchors see excess in Reagan funeral coverage". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. E01.
^"CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN". CNN. June 14, 2004. Retrieved 2011. Last week was in an odd sort of way a welcomed respite, a trip back. The present returned today. It returned with news of an indictment, a suspect and an alleged plot against middle America.