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Inside Politics

Reagan is laid to rest

President hailed as 'great liberator' at state funeral


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Nancy Reagan's children, Ron and Patti, and stepson Michael, background, comfort her beside the president's casket.
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Former President George H.W. Bush speaks of Reagan's humility.

Ronald Reagan's casket is carried into National Cathedral.

Nancy Reagan spends a moment with the casket at the Capitol.
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FRIDAY EULOGIES
Mulroney: Reagan's 'panache'

• President:  'Nation grieves'
• Thatcher:  'Providential'
• Bush:  'Strong and gentle'
REAGAN CEREMONIES
Funeral services

  • The body is flown back to California for a 6:15 p.m. PT (9:15 p.m. ET) private funeral, followed by burial at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley

  • YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
    Ronald Wilson Reagan
    Margaret H. Thatcher
    National Cathedral

    SIMI VALLEY, California (CNN) -- President Ronald Reagan was laid to rest at sunset Friday, the culmination of a five-day national farewell full of pomp and somber majesty.

    After a final playing of "Hail to the Chief," the 40th president's flag-draped casket was carried by a military honor guard into the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley for an interment service attended by 700 friends and family members.

    At the gravesite, with sweeping vistas of the ocean and mountains in the distance, "Taps" was played, military jets flew by in one last salute and his widow, Nancy, a stoic and poignant presence throughout a week of public mourning, received the flag that had been atop his casket and clutched it to her chest.

    She then said her final good-bye to the man she called "Ronnie," putting her cheek on the side of the casket and dissolving into tears, as her children comforted her.

    The epitaph chosen for Reagan's final resting place, on a wall surrounding his grave, was his own quote: "I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."

    Reagan, 93, died Saturday at his home in Bel Air, California, 10 years after he gracefully slipped from the public's eye with his announcement that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (Special Report: Ronald Reagan)

    Earlier Friday, he had been honored by fellow heads of state not only as the "great communicator" for his political skills, but also as the "great liberator" for his role in ending the Cold War.

    But in the Friday twilight, the final tributes were more personal, coming from his three surviving children.

    "You know my father as governor, as president, but I knew him as dad," Michael Reagan said. "I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son."

    "My father never feared death. He never saw it as an ending," Patti Davis said. "I don't know why Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father before releasing him into the arms of death. But I know that at his 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."

    "He is home now. He is free," said Ron Reagan Jr. "History will record his worth as a leader. We here have long since measured his worth as a man -- honest, compassionate, graceful, brave. He was the most plainly decent man you could ever hope to meet."

    At the ceremony's end, U.S. Navy jets flew overhead as a military band played "America the Beautiful."

    The motorcade carrying Reagan's casket arrived at the library after traveling a route lined with thousands of admirers. Many drivers stopped and stood beside their cars as the slow-moving motorcade passed by.

    Reagan's flag-draped casket was accompanied to California by his family aboard a presidential jet. When the plane touched down at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, it was also greeted by thousands of people waiting to pay their final respects.

    Washington honors a president

    Friday morning, in a capital cooled by gray skies and summer rain, Reagan's life and legacy had been celebrated in a funeral service at the National Cathedral, after two days of lying in state at the Capitol, where more than 100,000 people had filed past to pay their respects.

    Tributes were laced with laughter and tears as Reagan was hailed as a kind and modest soul who saw the best in America.

    "Our 40th president wore his title lightly, and it fit like a white Stetson," said President Bush, offering a graceful nod to Reagan's self-made image as an American cowboy. (Transcript: President Bush)

    The former two-term Republican president was remembered by contemporaries, who recalled his firm convictions and gentle spirit, and praised by Bush, who called his life "a great American story."

    One of the most moving eulogies came from the first President Bush, who served as Reagan's vice president before winning the White House on his own.

    "I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life," Bush said, his voice breaking with emotion. "I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did."

    As president of the United States from 1981 to 1989, Reagan stood firm against communism abroad and battled liberalism at home. Under Reagan, military spending soared -- as did the nation's deficit. Although he often clashed with Congress over budget priorities, his genial personality won him friends even among those who disagreed with his conservative policies.

    President Bush had designated Friday, an overcast and drizzly day in Washington, as a day of national mourning, meaning most federal offices were closed. The New York Stock Exchange was also closed. (Reagan ceremonies)

    The state funeral in Washington, an elaborate affair carried out with military precision and under tight security, was the first such ceremony since President Lyndon Johnson's service in 1973. It followed services earlier this week in California, where the final scenes in Reagan's last journey will play out Friday evening. In Washington and California, tens of thousands of people passed before Reagan's bier. (Your thoughts)

    The mourners represented a who's who of the political world. Former presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter and Ford, along with their wives, sat in the front pews. Key figures from the Reagan administration, including former secretaries of state James Baker and George Shultz, were scattered throughout the vast church. (Interactive: National Cathedral)

    About two dozen world leaders, past and present, traveled to Washington for the service. Among them: British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Afghanistan.

    Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan's partner in ending the Cold War, sat alongside former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Frail and in poor health, she taped a message months ago honoring Reagan, which was played at the funeral. She accompanied the Reagan family on the trip to California.

    "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," Thatcher said, praising Reagan, as others did, as a "great liberator" for standing against the Soviet Union.

    The current president praised Reagan as a man of strong convictions and endless optimism.

    "He believed the gentleman always does the kindest thing," Bush said. "He believed people were basically good and had the right to be free. He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things that a person could be guilty of. ... He believed America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world."

    Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recalled Reagan in affectionate terms, speaking about his wit and good humor.

    "Ronald Reagan was a president who inspired his nation and transformed the world," he said.

    Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- appointed to the court by Reagan and its first woman -- read from a 1630 sermon by John Winthrop. That sermon, she noted, had served as the inspiration for Reagan's description of America as a shining "city upon a hill." (Interactive: Hear excerpts from Reagan speeches)

    The first President Bush, in his eulogy, spoke of Reagan's humility. He described Reagan in the hospital in 1981, after he was shot in an assassination attempt.

    "Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor," Bush said. "He worried that his nurse would get in trouble."

    Reagan, said the first President Bush, personified the American spirit.

    "Once he called America hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair," Bush said. "That was America and, yes, our friend."

    Reagan's first wife, actress Jane Wyman, broke her silence about her former husband to praise him.

    "America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man," Wyman told a close friend, The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs reported.

    CNN's Joe Johns, Sean Loughlin, Elaine Quijano, Ed Henry, Ted Barrett and Silvio Carrillo contributed to this report.


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