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Nation's Capital Prepares to Bid Farewell to Ronald Reagan

Washington, D.C. is beginning preparations for the state funeral for Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who passed away Saturday afternoon...
June 8, 2004

President Ronald ReaganWashington, D.C. is beginning preparations for the state funeral for Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who passed away Saturday afternoon (6/5/04) at the age of 93. At his side were his loving and devoted wife Nancy, and two of his children. Reagan had been out of the public eye since November, 1994, when he released a letter to the American people saying he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Since his passing, there has been an outpouring of respect and affection for the former two-term president. Across the country, makeshift memorials sprouted up as average Americans flocked to his birthplace and boyhood home in Illinois, to his presidential library in Simi Valley, California, to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and to the lawn of the mortuary where his body was taken, where some mourners stood on the lawn, bowing their heads in prayer near a cardboard sign that said, "God Bless the Gipper."

Here in Washington, D.C., preparations are being made for Reagan's state funeral, the first for a former president since Lyndon Johnson's in 1973. On Sunday night, the White House announced that Federal offices would be closed Friday, but added programs essential for national defense, homeland security and other essential business might be kept open at the discretion of agency heads. President Bush has ordered all flags flown at half-staff on federal buildings for 30 days. On Monday, both the House and the Senate adjourned for the week in honor of the former president.

On Wednesday morning, Reagan's body is to be flown to Andrews Air Force Base and then driven to a site near the Washington Monument. There, his casket will be loaded on to a horse-drawn caisson and led up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol by a solitary drummer. His body will rest in state on a bier made for Abraham Lincoln, beneath the monumental fresco of George Washington in the Capitol Rotunda, while tens of thousands pass in mourning all night and until Thursday evening. His casket will be closed.  

A funeral will be held Friday at Washington National Cathedral. Then, Reagan will be flown back home to California, for a sunset burial on the grounds of his presidential library, beneath an oak tree on a hillside overlooking the Pacific.

In a speech to the Republican National Convention on November 17, 1992, Reagan spoke of how he would like to be remembered.

"Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way," Reagan said.

"And finally, my fellow Americans may every dawn be a great new beginning for America and every evening bring us closer to that shining city upon a hill."