Week of public mourning for Reagan ends - East Valley Tribune: News

Week of public mourning for Reagan ends

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Posted: Friday, June 11, 2004 5:02 pm | Updated: 4:59 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - At a sunset hilltop ceremony, a week of public mourning for Ronald Reagan came to a close with his three surviving children poignantly remembering their father - the 40th president of the United States - as loving and dedicated.

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Michael Reagan, Patti Davis and Ron Reagan Jr. shared their memories Friday with former first lady Nancy Reagan and a host of foreign dignitaries, politicians and movie stars who came to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for the last goodbye. Reagan's daughter Maureen, from his first marriage, died from cancer in 2001.

"He is home now. He is free," said his son, Ron Reagan Jr., recalling his father's 10-year struggle with Alzheimer's disease. "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."

The children's remarks capped five days of memorial tributes and eulogies on both coasts, complete with viewings of Reagan's coffin both at the library and at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington.

Reagan's body was entombed at the Simi Valley library site shortly before 3 a.m. Saturday, said Duke Blackwell, executive director of the library and Ronald Reagan Memorial Foundation.

Fewer than 30 people were present as the tomb was sealed shut, Blackwell said. They included representatives of the mortuary, Secret Service, library and workers who opened and closed the tomb. Reagan's family had left hours earlier.

Accompanied by a stoic Mrs. Reagan, the flag-draped casket arrived at the library after a flight from Washington and a slow, 25-mile motorcade from the Navy's Point Mugu air station.

Hundreds of well-wishers cheered Mrs. Reagan when she left the plane, and crowds along the motorcade route waved flags, held their hands over their hearts and applauded as the hearse passed.

The service earlier at Washington National Cathedral drew the four living ex-presidents, 25 heads of state or government, 11 former leaders and more than 180 ambassadors and foreign ministers.

"Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now," President Bush said in his eulogy, "but we preferred it when he belonged to us."

As the sun set Friday over the Pacific Ocean, Michael Reagan, Reagan's adopted son, praised his father for never making him feel different because he wasn't a biological child.

"Ron Reagan adopted me into his family in 1945. I was the chosen one. I was the lucky one," he said. "In all these years, he never mentioned that I was adopted either behind my back or in front of me. I was his son, Michael Edward Reagan."

Michael Reagan also told of advice his father gave him when he decided to marry.

"He sent me a letter about marriage and how important it was to be faithful to the woman you love. With a P.S.: 'You'll never get in trouble if you say I love you at least once a day.' I'm sure he told Nancy every day 'I love you.'"

Patti Davis said that in her father's last moment, "when he opened his eyes, eyes that had not opened for many, many days, and looked at my mother, he showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love."

The casket was then carried to the burial site, where final prayers were offered, an artillery battery and riflemen fired salutes, and a bugler played "Taps."

Four Navy fighter jets soared overhead, one peeling up and away.

American guns around the world fired in Reagan's honor - 21-gun salutes at the stroke of noon local time at U.S. military bases, at dusk, another worldwide round of 50-gun salutes.

As Mrs. Reagan weeped, the flag was removed the casket, folded and presented to her by Navy Capt. James A Symonds, commander of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. The banner had flown over the ship at the time of the former president's death.

Clutching the flag, Mrs. Reagan stepped to the casket, placed her head on the lid and cried as her children rushed to comfort her. Unwilling to leave, she kissed and rubbed the casket. "I love you," she said quietly.

Mrs. Reagan, 82, slow in step yet keenly alert to every polished move in the week's remembrance, had shepherded the casket everywhere with quiet intensity, turning the most public of events into a series of private moments.

She kissed it lightly at the Capitol Rotunda, and laid her head on it at the library. Many times, she ran her hands slowly up and down the stripes of the flag and, leaning close, seemed to whisper something to her husband of 52 years.

In Washington earlier, dignitaries and friends remembered the president for his firm, but humble, authority, for his commitment to his wife and for his sense of humor.

"His politics had a freshness and optimism that won converts from every class and every nation - and ultimately from the very heart of the evil empire," said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in taped remarks presented at the funeral.

Thatcher, who has given up public speaking after a series of small strokes, sat next to Mikhail Gorbachev, who led that Soviet "empire" and eventually became Reagan's friend.

About 700 mourners attended the private burial ceremony in Simi Valley, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Tom Selleck and singer Wayne Newton.

Thousands more lined the motorcade route from Point Mugu to the library, hoping to catch a last glimpse of the president and his family. Some waited for hours on highway overpasses and on local roads along the route, which followed Highway 101.

Bruce Newman, 54, of Camarillo, said he saw the casket at the library at 4 a.m. Tuesday and said the week's events brought the nation together much as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had done.

"It brought everybody that I've seen together in an incredible way. Everybody is really active right now," he said. "For 10 years, everybody knew he was going to be gone. Now it's real."

Reagan died last Saturday at 93 from pneumonia complicated by the Alzheimer's disease that had progressively clouded his mind. He told the world in 1994, five years after ending his two-term presidency, that he had Alzheimer's in his famous letter to the American people.

Reagan had begun thinking of his last rites in 1981, his first year as president, and planned some elements of the funeral - inviting the elder Bush and Thatcher to speak, asking Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to do a reading and expressing a wish for an operatic soloist, family representatives said.

Mrs. Reagan filled in the program by asking the current president to take part, and inviting former Sen. John Danforth, an Episcopalian priest, to officiate at the multi-faith service.

Delivering the homily, Danforth read from the Sermon on the Mount, Reagan's favorite Biblical theme.

The Gospel of Matthew, 5:14-16, reads, "You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid," a passage that Reagan often quoted to project his view of America as a beacon of freedom and hope.

"If ever we have known a child of light, it was Ronald Reagan," Danforth said.

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