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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
A sombre Washington mourns Reagan
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online in Washington

It was a grey, sombre day in Washington that matched the mood of a nation in mourning, remembering Ronald Reagan.
Nancy Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda
Nancy Reagan lingers briefly at her husband's flag-draped casket

The day began with the last mourners filing past the casket. They had queued for hours in the hot humidity of the Washington summer and through two nights.

Beginning at 2 am Friday, officials began turning away mourners because the line was too long for them to see the casket before it was to be moved to the National Cathedral.

Some mourners were bitterly disappointed, having driven for hours.

As his vice-president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than anyone I encountered in my years of public life
George Bush Senior

As the casket was prepared for transport, Nancy Reagan came one last time to the Capitol Rotunda.

Once again, she bent down and kissed the flag-draped casket.

The flag that covered the casket had flown over the Capitol on the day Mr Reagan was sworn into office in 1981.

The weather darkened as the casket was carried down the steps of the US Capitol, and a military escort held an umbrella to shelter Mrs Reagan from the rain.

The US Army band played the solemn Navy Hymn.

Crowds line the streets

Despite the rain, crowds gathered all along the route the hearse travelled from the Capitol to the National Cathedral, where the national funeral was held.

Some mourners found a protest along the funeral route inappropriate
Amy Philmore-Nassar lives in the area and was one of the thousands of people who gathered near the cathedral.

Her parents took her to Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 when she was just seven years old and she came out to be a part of history.

She can remember her parents worrying about the Cold War when she was younger, and she said, in ending the Cold War, "he made the world a safer place."

Also near the cathedral, a disparate group of a dozen protestors gathered holding anti-gay, anti-Reagan and anti-American signs.

A small boy held a sign, "Thank God for September 11" and another held a banner saying, "Reagan in Hell."

Kenneth Lee drove one of the guests to the cathedral in a limousine, and he walked 10 blocks to pay his respects along the route the funeral procession took to the cathedral.

"I didn't vote for Reagan, but he was a great president. He brought pride back to the country. He brought back the military," he said.

He was shocked to see the protestors: "I don't think it's appropriate. I didn't agree with him on everything, but this is a day to honour him."

Emotional day

Thousands of guests, dignitaries and world leaders, past and present, gathered at the National Cathedral for the funeral.

The 320-kg mahogany casket was carried into the cathedral by the military body bearers.

As Nancy Reagan followed the casket to the front of the cathedral, her military escort passed her briefly to the arm of President George W Bush, who walked her a short way to her seat.

To her left sat America's four living former presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton.

Nancy Reagan arrives outside Washington National Cathedral
About 4,000 mourners joined Nancy Reagan in the cathedral
This was a day that was long in the planning. The official plan for the events was some 300 pages long.

In 1981, during his first year in office, President Reagan asked his Vice-President, George HW Bush, to speak at his funeral.

Mr Bush later asked Mr Reagan how he was able to get through the emotional speeches he gave on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasions without becoming emotional himself.

Even with Mr Reagan's advice, Mr Bush was not able to make it through his eulogy without his grief showing through.

"As his vice-president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than anyone I encountered in my years of public life," he said, his voice cracking, forcing him to pause briefly.

At the end of the ceremony, the bells of the National Cathedral and at churches across the US rang 40 times to mark the passing of the United States' 40th president.

After the funeral, the casket was then flown to California for a private ceremony with the family and the interment at the Reagan Presidential Library.


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