Skip to comments.Final journey
Posted on 06/12/2004 3:07:23 AM PDT by kattracks
Ronald Reagan headed off into the sunset yesterday after a long and final farewell that had both a majestic state funeral in Washington - and a tearful Hollywood ending.
Clutching the flag that had draped her husband's coffin to her chest, Nancy Reagan rested her head on the coffin at the close of the ceremony on a California mountaintop and silently sobbed.
Her children, Ron and Patti and Michael, rushed over to comfort her, whispered soothing words and stroked her hair.
"Thank you," she said and kissed the coffin.
Then Nancy Reagan wiped away a tear and allowed herself to be walked to a waiting car by her children. But after she got into the vehicle, she lingered there for a short while, unwilling to leave.
It was a wrenching end to a remarkable day of Reagan remembrance that began in the rotunda of the Capitol and ended in California, where Reagan's three surviving children said their last goodbyes.
"He is home now; he is free," Reagan's youngest, Ron Jr., said. "In his final letter to the American people, Dad wrote, 'I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.' This evening, he has arrived."
Nancy Reagan, who had fought back tears all day, lost her composure after an honor guard carried Reagan's flag-draped coffin to a spot near the burial site to the haunting strains of a lone bagpiper performing "Amazing Grace."
As the grieving widow and her family retreated to a private location, more than 700 mourners, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and dozens of old movie pals, paid their final respects.
But only a pair of gravediggers would be there when the sun set and Reagan's coffin was lowered into a vault behind the presidential library north of Los Angeles.
That was how the Reagans wanted to end the week-long tribute to a President whose passing prompted an unscripted display of grief by tens of thousands of Americans.
Drawing on a sense of showmanship honed in Hollywood and a regal style perfected in the White House, Nancy Reagan plotted out the President's funeral long before his mind was clouded by Alzheimer's disease, long before he died last Saturday at age 93.
Even the fickle Washington weather stuck to the script yesterday as the sunshine and stifling heat of the past few days gave way to slate gray skies and intermittent drizzle befitting the solemn mood.
President Bush had declared yesterday a national day of mourning and while the motorcade made the 4-plus-mile journey to the Washington National Cathedral, American rifles rang out in Washington, in Afghanistan and in Iraq with 21-gun salutes.
Bells tolled at the cathedral 40 times when the hearse arrived and the normally jaunty "Hail to the Chief" was played as a dirge as Reagan's coffin was carried inside.
Then Irish tenor Ronan Tynan filled the soaring space of the cathedral with "Ave Maria."
Leaning on the arm of her official escort, the black-clad and stoic widow was ushered inside followed by her three surviving children. President Bush led her to the first pew, where she sat beside her daughter Patti Davis and clutched her hand through the ceremony.
Tracing the arc of Reagan's life from his Illinois boyhood to the White House, Bush eulogized Reagan as a man who "believed that America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world."
"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now," Bush told an audience that included four former Presidents and dignitaries from around the world. "But we preferred it when he belonged to us."
Perhaps the most eloquent tribute was from the ailing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose recorded tribute to "Ronnie" echoed through the sanctuary and moved many to tears.
"We have lost a great President, a great American, a great man, and I lost a dear friend," she said. "He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world and to free the slaves of communism."
Earlier, former President George H.W. Bush, who had been Reagan's vice president, paid tribute to his former boss' widow and "the Reagan kids."
"If Ronald Reagan created a better world for many millions it was because of the world someone else created for him," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Later, as Reagan winged his way home to his final resting place, the pilot dipped the plane's wings in a graceful gesture of respect just after 4 p.m. as they passed over the President's Tampico, Ill., birthplace.
With Michelle Caruso in Simi Valley, Calif.
Originally published on June 12, 2004
She was dignified and beautiful all the way through.
Nancy Reagan gave all of us a great gift. She allowed us to see what pure love looks like.
It also struck me that she didn't have to allow us to intrude on the private ceremony. She had already given us so much, but she let us be part of the final resting place as well.
We should treasure that always.
Aloha, Mr. President. Godspeed
Well done Mrs. Reagan, very well done.
Nancy is a lady right down to the tips of her fingers.
Yesterday would have been a tough day for a young woman, suffering from grief and going on for over 16 hours. I know Nancy was exhausted but she stuck to it. What a wonderful woman. A wonderful wife.
And, btw, Fox News did a wonderful jon of covering it. No commercials, virtually no talk, excellent camera work.
I was glued to the TV yesterday, my only regrets being that I could not be present, and that my PVR does not incorporate a DVD burner. On the otherhand, watching it all again as I offload it to disc in real time will be no burden. I cannot remember a more magnificent funeral since Kennedy's; no one can doubt Regan was revered by The Nation. I have to say also my respect and admiration for Mrs. Reagan is unbounded.
And throughout the reverent, somber, sadly majestic ceremonies, I could not help but be reminded of the contrast with Senator Wellstone's obsequies. Despite the grief of the moment, I am comforted by the thought The Nation is very different from what The Activist Left believes it to be. Forgive me please for injecting partisanship, but I believe even more firmly now that November will bring its own "Shock and Awe" to those who strive to embarass and diminish America.
Mrs. Reagan obviously drew from some deep well of personal strength to get through all that yesterday.
I'm 35 years younger than she, and was emotionally and physically exhausted just by watching it on TV at home.
And I didn't have to climb in & out of cars...go up & down long flights of stairs...take a cross-country plane flight...personally greet hundreds of people...be on camera all day and in front of cheering/weeping crowds and say goodbye to a beloved husband.
God Bless you, Nancy. You did your Ronnie proud.