2004-06-10 / Front Page

Thousands pay their respects to former President Ronald Reagan

By Saria Kraft

By Saria Kraft kraft@theacorn.com

MICHAEL COONS/The Acorn  SAYING GOODBYE-Mourners pay their respects to former President Ronald Reagan while his body lay in repose in the rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Monday.MICHAEL COONS/The Acorn SAYING GOODBYE-Mourners pay their respects to former President Ronald Reagan while his body lay in repose in the rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Monday.

Long after the 40th leader of the United States is laid to rest, local residents will remember that the first and final tributes were paid to him here.

In the first days of national memorial events, 106,000 people came to Simi Valley to offer their respects.

Former President Ronald Reagan will be interred in a private burial service at sundown tomorrow at the western edge of the Reagan Library.

Befitting the man who is credited with ending the Cold War, the memorial site faces west.

Following its journey from a Santa Monica funeral home on Monday, the Reagan motorcade arrived at the library at 11 a.m. Beneath the soft cool clouds, a Marine Corps band played "Hail to the Chief" as eight military pallbearers carried the casket to the rotunda.

After a brief family service officiated by the Rev. Michael Wenning of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, former First Lady Nancy Reagan touched a tear-stained cheek to the casket and was embraced by her daughter, Patti Davis.

The former first family returned to the library at 8 a.m. yesterday to accompany the body to Washington, D.C.. At Point Mugu Naval Air Station, a 21-gun salute and "Amazing Grace" honored Reagan prior to departure for Andrews Air Force Base.

On Monday, scores of small American flags lined the road to the Reagan Library, waving gently in the wind as Los Angeles MTA buses ascended toward the hilltop with mourners of all ages, races and walks of life.

The 50-bus fleet carried 1,800 people per hour from Moorpark College on the first day. By Tuesday at 6 a.m., 40,000 had arrived to pay their respects. Nearly 2,500 people per hour boarded the caravan throughout the day, library officials said.

The two-term president and California governor from 1967 to 1975 was remembered as a gifted statesman and inspired speaker who captivated the American public with effortless humor, homespun values and Hollywood style.

There were no detractors to cite the Iran Contra affair, no Democrats to say he made the rich richer while increasing the national debt and no civil rights or mental health advocates to protest that he turned his back on those causes.

As mourners filed quietly through the rotunda, some held hands or walked arm in arm while they wept silently. They carried Bibles, books of poetry, babies and backpacks. Some traveled 10 hours for their two-minute glimpse of history. Most turned at the exit for one last look.

Fred Kerpsie and his wife of 36 years, Linda, drove in from Acton.

"Reagan was a fantastic statesman and a great family man," Kerpsie said. "When I was a child, I watched him on ‘Death Valley Days’ and considered him a role model. Kids wanted to be just like him."

Irene Badiola, 86, came with her daughter, Bee Bareng, from Temecula.

"We are from the Philippines," Bareng said. "When my mother became a citizen, Mr. Reagan was the first president she voted for. It’s why we’re here today."

Debbie Pierson, nine months pregnant with her first child, arrived from Sunland.

‘This is probably the only opportunity in my lifetime to honor a president in this way," Pierson said.

Andrea Pichler of Woodland Hills came with family visiting from Madagascar.

"I was a student in Paris when he was president," Pichler said. "We saw him as very relaxed, very confident. There was no way my son and I would miss this."

Memorial events at the Reagan Library were several years in the planning. The most important priority was to make the ceremony "respectful" to the presidency, said Duke Blackwell, executive director.

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