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Inside Politics

Reagan's body lies in state

Casket accompanied to Capitol by elaborate procession

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Nancy Reagan touches her husband's flag-draped casket in the Capitol Rotunda.
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Journey marked by solemnity, sadness, pride and precision.

Every detail counts as preparations made for Reagan's funeral.

Capitol Hill police focus on security for Reagan ceremonies.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a cross-country journey marked by gestures large and small, the body of former President Ronald Reagan was brought to the Rotunda of the Capitol on Wednesday to lie in state.

"Fellow Americans, here lies a graceful and a gallant man," Vice President Dick Cheney said in an evening ceremony in the Rotunda attended by members of Congress, dignitaries and the Reagan family.

Reagan, the nation's 40th president who helped bring an end to the Cold War and revitalized the conservative wing of his Republican Party, died at age 93 Saturday, following a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease. (Special Report: Ronald Reagan)

The day was carefully choreographed, marked by pageantry and poignancy, beginning in California -- Reagan's adopted home state -- and ending in the city he defined throughout the 1980s.

"Ronald Reagan's long journey has finally drawn to a close," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who hailed the late president's "optimism and ... Western can-do spirit."

Borne by a military honor guard, the casket entered the Capitol to the strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and was placed in the center of the ornate Rotunda atop a catafalque built in 1865 for Abraham Lincoln's funeral.

At the close of the ceremony, his widow, Nancy, approached the coffin and gently caressed it with her hand.

Several speakers paid tribute to Mrs. Reagan, who rarely left his side during his long decline.

After she left, prominent figures, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, passed in front of the bier.

State funeral

Reagan's body will lie in state for public viewing until Friday morning, when a state funeral will take place at Washington's National Cathedral.

It will be the first such ceremony in Washington in more than three decades. The last state funeral was for President Johnson in 1973. (Funeral ceremonies)

Capitol Hill Police Chief Terrance Gainer said as many as 200,000 mourners were expected to view the casket. Security officials planned to allow 5,000 mourners through each hour, Gainer said.

The ceremony in the Rotunda was for VIPs, but ordinary Americans paid tribute to Reagan throughout the day, beginning at the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where tens of thousands of admirers had paid their respects over two days, among them Democratic presidential contender John Kerry.

Some stood in silent respect and others saluted as the entourage passed first through the California hills and then the streets of Washington after arriving by military jet at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Some Americans held signs expressing their affection for a man known as "the Gipper" -- after one of his most popular movie characters from his acting days -- and others waved flags.

"Our hearts are broken," read one sign.

John Pezzullo, a government employee from suburban Virginia, arrived early Wednesday morning outside the Capitol, determined to take part in the historic ceremonies.

"It's sad, but it's kind of beautiful," he said, describing how those in line were exchanging stories about a president they so admired.

Constitution Avenue was lined with such people as a horse-drawn caisson transported Reagan's casket toward the Capitol to the cadence of drums and accompanied by a riderless horse, which signifies a fallen leader. A pair of Reagan's personal boots were turned backward in the stirrups to symbolize the loss of a rider.

When the casket reached the west steps of the Capitol, a military flyover of 21 planes paid tribute, the last four executing the "missing man" formation.

Solemn arrival

Each stage of the cross-country journey unfolded with military pomp and solemn tribute.

At Andrews, canons fired, military personnel saluted and a band played "Hail to the Chief" as Reagan's casket was loaded off a military plane, a backup to Air Force One.

Led by Mrs. Reagan, the family -- including grown children Michael, Ron and Patti Davis -- accompanied the late president on the journey.

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Mourners walk through the Rotunda paying their respects to the former president Wednesday night.

Mrs. Reagan was cheered and applauded throughout the day. As the casket was transferred from a hearse to the caisson near the White House, one man shouted, "God bless you, Nancy."

The ceremonies unfolded under extraordinary security. Checkpoints were set up around the Capitol and bomb sniffing dogs were seen around government buildings.

The grounds of the Capitol and the Supreme Court were briefly evacuated late Wednesday afternoon because of radio problems with a small plane carrying Kentucky's governor, who is scheduled to attend the funeral.

The plane was authorized to enter Washington's restricted airspace but was having problems with a radio transponder, which prevented air traffic controllers from tracking the aircraft, an FAA official said. (Full story)

Gainer said the Washington ceremonies could be a "pretty attractive" target for terrorists, although there was no specific intelligence that the event has been targeted.

Capitol Hill police were working with the U.S. Park Police, FBI, ATF and the Secret Service, Gainer said, noting that between 3,000 and 4,000 officers would be on duty.

Day of mourning

At Friday's services, the two-term Republican president will be eulogized by a chorus of his contemporaries -- former President George Bush, who served as his vice president; Thatcher, a conservative ally and a close friend; and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

The current President Bush, who Wednesday hosted Group of Eight leaders at Sea Island, Georgia, will speak at the service as well.

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Thousands of people lined the route of the procession Wednesday.

Friday has been designated a national day of mourning. (Your thoughts) The New York Stock Exchange will be closed, and only government offices necessary for national security will remain open.

A federal official told CNN about 20 current heads of state were expected to attend the service.

Tributes to Reagan continued in Congress. Some Republican lawmakers have proposed putting Reagan's likeness on U.S. currency as a permanent memorial. (Full story)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill to rename the Pentagon the Ronald Reagan National Defense Building.

Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged his colleagues to give "careful thought" to how to honor Reagan and to be "mindful" of the contributions of other commanders in chief.

CNN's John King, Chris Lawrence and David Mattingly contributed to this report.


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