Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Final Farewell to Ronald Reagan
Aired June 11, 2004 - 19:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN SPECIAL PRESENTATION. A final farewell to Ronald Reagan. Reporting from Washington, Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for joining us for our special coverage of the nation's final farewell to President Ronald Reagan.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": What we're seeing now is the presidential jet bringing the coffin, the casket of President Reagan to the Point Mugu Naval Air Station not far from the presidential library. About to fly over if it hasn't yet, fly over the presidential library in Simi Valley. We just saw it continue to make that symbolic gesture over this library. The flags flying, Paula, at half-staff. This is where the 40th president of the United States will be buried at sunset tonight on the Pacific.
ZAHN: And the feeling of that ceremony, which we'll see unfold in about an hour and a half from now, will be much different in feeling from the grandeur of what we witnessed at the National Cathedral a little bit earlier today. Let's go to Candy Crowley who's standing by at the Reagan Presidential Library right now to fill us in on what the tone of that service will be like. Hi, Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, I don't know if you can hear me at this point. We have a lot of -- there are a lot of people here and a lot of static in our earphones which we use to listen to you. But let me kind of set the scene for you. This will be very close friends of the Reagans as well as a lot of old Hollywood friends.
We have seen Kirk Douglas' name on the list of those expected, Merv Griffin, obviously. We've also seen people like Pat Sajak, the game show host, Charlton Heston. We have, so far, spotted Tom Selleck is here. Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player is here. But also close friends. Names like Bloomingdale and Annenberg, long-time friends of the Reagans, they will be here.
This is a much more intimate setting than what we saw today at the National Cathedral. But there will still be a number of flourishes befitting a president. A 21-gun salute, there'll be a flyover of F-18s. So there still will be those sorts of things. But the feel here is a very much more one of family and old friends, whereas in Washington it was sort of a salute to a president, a salute to the leader of the free world. This is a good-bye to a father, this is a good-bye to a husband and a good-bye to a friend and we will hear, for the first time since their father's death, from the three surviving Reagan children, Patti, Michael and Ron. They're expected to make some comments here as well.
The burial, I don't know how much you've seen of this. This is the most gorgeous spot. The president had said he wanted a sundown ceremony. He will get it. The sun has been shining in the bluest of skies all day long. As I am looking sort of into the camera, right behind where the camera is is where the president will be lain to rest in a sort of a curved setting, where he is looking directly west. He's a man, of course, who came from Illinois and headed west to find his fame and fortune. There was that little eight years in Washington, but this was where his heart is. This is where he will be buried and as requested, he will be facing west -- Paula and Wolf.
ZAHN: I guess when you look back -- thank you, Candy -- on what unfolded here in Washington, the skies were very gray and ugly and there is something I guess appropriate about those people attending the service later today to be able to see a California sunset, the sunset that this president was so drawn to.
BLITZER: Appropriately enough, Paula, beautiful day in California. What we're seeing now is this U.S. Air Force presidential jet carrying the casket of Ronald Reagan to Point Mugu, the naval air station in California not far from the presidential library. This is a plane that has undertaken this approximately five-hour flight that left earlier today from Andrews Air Force Base.
ZAHN: A flight that is about an hour faster than most people usually travel on a commercial flight. On board the flight besides some of the family members, on board is Margaret Thatcher who delivered a magnificent eulogy early today, talked in very personal terms about her friendship with the president, talked about the president's optimism, and his greatest gift being able to cheer us all up. There was some concern she wouldn't be able to make this trip. She has suffered a series of mild strokes and she, in fact, prerecorded the eulogy and we saw that play out on videotape today. And her doctors recently had not allowed her to give any speeches or travel at all, so it is quite remarkable that as frail as she is, that it was very important for her to show up in Washington today and get on this plane and fly across the country.
BLITZER: Speaking of frail, perhaps most important aboard this aircraft is Nancy Reagan who has gone through these past several days with such dignity, such charm, such poise. I suspect, though, as we get closer to this final, final event in this nearly week-long period of national mourning here in the United States, it will become increasingly more difficult in the next few hours. This is the plane that will touch down momentarily at Point Mugu at the naval air station. We'll watch it land. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is over there already watching this land as well. Thelma, tell us what we can anticipate once the plane taxies to a stop, the casket is removed and the former first lady emerges.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, in fact, we see that that SAM 28,000 has approached Point Mugu. In fact, we believe that it has landed. We can hear it off in the distance right now as it pulls over on to the flight line here at Point Mugu. We're told, Wolf that once...
BLITZER: It has now landed. We're seeing it live. It has touched down on the runway at Point Mugu and it's obviously going to taxi for a while before it stops. What will happen immediately as it stops and the people aboard this plane begin to emerge and the casket is removed?
GUTIERREZ: Well, exactly what will happen is that there is a vehicle here which has a loading device to move the casket from the aircraft to the presidential hearse, which is waiting here on the flight line. There will be military pall bearers which will pass between two lines of color guard and then a Marine band will begin to play "God Bless America." The president will receive a 21-gun salute by four Howitsers that are out here in the distance from the flight line, then the motorcade will begin its journey to the Reagan Library but not before, Wolf, everyone is seated, particularly Nancy Reagan.
And I wanted to mention that it really is an amazing sight out here. There are thousands of people. We were here early today, just a few military folks. Now there are thousands that are lining this area. You see sailors from the USS Reagan who are here. There are eight of them which were chosen to be here. They are going to be joined by local dignitaries who will greet the procession. And then you see many children out here, military children holding flags, waving flags. You also see Secret Service, the security here is incredibly tight. They've made several sweeps through the area, throughout the day. And just an amazing sight. Many, many people waiting to greet the first lady and the procession.
ZAHN: Thelma, what has been striking to Wolf and me over the last several days is to hear the number of young people who -- many of whom weren't even born when Ronald Reagan was serving as a president, who felt the need to, in some way, pay their respects to the president, either at the library, perhaps even out at the Naval Air Station today.
GUTIERREZ: Yes, that's exactly right. In fact, I spoke with many children. I asked them, "do you know who President Reagan is? Do you know who he was? What he stood for?" And oddly enough, they had talked to their parents and they said, "you know, I wasn't around when he was president, but they told me that he was a good president. And that's why I'm here."
BLITZER: Thelma, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is watching all of this together with all of us. Jeff, just if you think about it in historic terms, to take this casket from the nation's Capitol in Washington and bring it back to California, flight of approximately a little bit more than five hours, earlier presidents who went through these state funerals, sometimes it took days, in fact, weeks to get their caskets back to their final resting grounds.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANALYST: Well, the most particular one was the body of Abraham Lincoln who went on train from Washington up to New York, through Buffalo, and it took all in all more than 16 days. They don't even know how many people saw it because at every big city they would take the casket and they would have a ceremony at a city hall, they would have a kind of -- parade is perhaps the wrong word -- and that Lincoln funeral train is one of the most searing moments of post-Civil War America. There were literally a couple million people who remember that as one of the great moments, one of the most important moments of their lives.
And this is, obviously, a very different circumstance in every way, not the least of which is that Ronald Reagan's presided for eight years. He hasn't been president for 15 years. I was talking with the -- one of his old friends and supporters, William F. Buckley, I happened to be riding up to New York with him on the train and he was just amazed that 15 years after Reagan had left office, 10 years after he really left with us with Alzheimer's, the power, the meaning of his death, the need to recognize it really speaks of him to the consequentiality of Ronald Reagan who we can argue politics all you want or policies.
I will say it again, this is the most consequential political figure in the White House since Franklin D. Roosevelt, that's one of the reasons why so many thousands of people turned out and why we have been covering this almost nonstop for a week, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Jeff, as we have seen this plane continue to taxi and the crowds that have gathered at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California getting ready to glimpse, have a little glimpse at this historic moment, set the stage, what we should be looking for later tonight at sunset Pacific Time, California time, when the final event of this week long period of national mourning occurs.
GREENFIELD: I have a feeling that that is going to be one of the more emotional moments of this whole week. I sort of said for several days that I don't -- I don't know that people really feel a sense of loss because he had a full life; he was the oldest ex-president, he died peacefully after a battle with Alzheimer's. But there is something about a burial at sunset that marks a finality, I think, even for those of us who have looked at this more like a commemoration or celebration, that is the last possible final farewell, that is the last time that Nancy Reagan, who has been having very emotional moments each time she approaches the casket and then leaves it, this will be the very last one.
I think even for those of us who see this as a commemoration, that's where the emotional punch may well come, as the sun sets and the president is laid to rest -- Wolf.
ZAHN: Thank you very much, Jeff. Let's check in with Jim Kuhn, who was an executive assistant to the president during his presidency. We have been riveted by Nancy Reagan over the last five, six days, her composure, her dignity, her grace. Today, I was almost tortured watching her, particularly as she reached down, bent over, to kiss the casket. At one point it almost appeared as though she was saying something to the casket. You knew them both for many, many years. How do you react to those pictures we've seen?
KUHN: Well, Paula, I think she probably was talking to him. In fact, I'm sure she was. And as I look at the footage here of 28,000, pulling up with Mrs. Reagan and President Reagan's body on board and thinking what must be going through her mind.
And my sense is that there has to be somewhat of a state of peace of mind now that she is feeling, because I know one of her concerns over the past few years has been that something could possibly happen to her and that she wouldn't be here, to be with Ronnie to make sure that he had the care that she wanted him to have until the final day. That was very important to her: the right doctors, the right support personnel. And she watched very closely and she wanted to ensure that she was here until he was gone. So, there has to be some peace of mind there that that worked out for her.
ZAHN: Although a number of her friends were quoted as saying that it has been very difficult for her to even think about letting go over the last several days. Although she's had a decade to prepare for this possibility, one can only imagine maybe what a state of shock this -- she is still in.
KUHN: I saw that on Monday when she was at the library and leaned over the casket and it hit me very hard then the impact, that no matter how long you prepare for this, and what goes through your mind, the pain and suffering that she was feeling at that time hit me very hard.
BLITZER: I notice you said that it was so important for her personally, Jim, to be around at this time of national mourning. And this was so important for her to say good-bye to Ronnie, as she called him. You told me a few days ago that one of the things you learned from her was how to eat in really, really small portions.
KUHN: It is amazing when people talk about how frail she looks today, I thought she was a tower of strength when I saw her today at the National Cathedral. She looked fantastic. She looked strong. She looked the way that President Reagan wanted her to look today.
But more specifically she amazed me as first lady when we would travel around the country, overseas, in hotel suites, she would -- her portion of food would be 10 percent of what a normal human being would get, it seemed. And she would eat about 5 percent of that. And I learned from Nancy Reagan that you don't have to eat a lot to survive.
ZAHN: A very disciplined woman.
BLITZER: And that discipline certainly is coming through this week. How much of this event, these past several days, did she personally coordinate?
KUHN: She's overseen this from the very beginning. As they planned the funeral years ago, Nancy Reagan's touch has been on everything. Touch of elegance from beginning to end. So she looked at this very carefully and she had a major role in it at the outset.
ZAHN: It is so interesting to compare and contrast her image today with her image when she was first lady. And we all recognized that every first lady has been a lightning rod at some point of her husband's presidency. But this is someone who -- it strikes me, whose reputation has been completely changed by this very long journey she's had to travel with her husband.
KUHN: I think so too. But yet it was unfair as first lady, she had the reputation and various connotations or nicknames or whatever that were negative. But Paula, it was never because of Nancy Reagan. If she had to speak up, if she had to get on the phone with the chief of staff or myself or anybody and things weren't going right, it was always because of her roommate or Ronnie, it was never because of herself.
And I have to tell you, whenever I got a phone call, it was never because we had done our work perfectly. We usually had missed something, or the president was not served well, and it was pointed out and we corrected it. She was doing her job.
ZAHN: When is the last time you had an opportunity to talk with Nancy Reagan?
KUHN: I saw her in March, late March, and spent an hour with her in their home. President Reagan was there. I didn't see him, of course. But you felt his presence while we spoke.
ZAHN: How so?
KUHN: You just had a sense he was looking over his shoulder, that strength of Ronald Reagan. You were with his beloved Nancy. And we had a delightful discussion about Washington, about stem cell research. We talked a lot about Ronald Reagan, about all of his achievements, about the personal side of him. It was a delightful hour.
BLITZER: Let me explain to our viewers Jim, Paula, what we're seeing now, the crowds have gathered at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station not far from the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley in Southern California. People have come with their children, a lot of young kids here.
The front of the plane will be where the former first lady will exit. She'll walk down the stairs together with her children and other guests who have made this flight across the country from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C.
They will walk down. They'll be received there. There will be a brief service, ceremony here to the rear of the plane, the belly of the plane. A truck has already pulled up. That will bring the casket down. And then the color guard will eventually move that casket over to a hearse for the journey, for the drive over from Point Mugu, the naval air station here over to the presidential library.
We see the family minister showing up with the military. And Nancy Reagan, Paula, will be walking down the stairs shortly. She'll be escorted -- I want our viewers to remember this -- U.S. Major General Galen Jackman, who has been with her since Sunday. She will walk down -- she will walk down the stairs escorted by the military escort officer who has been at her side virtually every minute since this ordeal began.
ZAHN: I can't even imagine the stories he might have to share some day about the experience of having her lean on him. I'm sure he's provided a great deal of comfort to her.
KUHN: He had a big role. No question about it. When I see this footage also, I think of the library and how President Reagan used to refer to it, he called it his museum. He didn't call it a library, he didn't call it presidential library. He would say this will go in a museum, or we will do that at the museum.
And, you know, it also makes you reflect too when they made the decision where their final resting place would be, it was the day of the groundbreaking, November 21, 1988, when they had the ceremonial groundbreaking at the library, that they decided then on the trip down, driving down the small mountain, the hill top, that that would be their final resting place.
BLITZER: And the minister we see at this arrival ceremony is the Reverend Michael Wenning, he's a close personal friend of the family.
KUHN: I do not know him. But he has a major role there today. And you can see how important he was at the beginning of the week with the footage and the photos of Mrs. Reagan and the casket and how he provided support. She needed it at that time, very much so.
ZAHN: You so often hear, living presidents, when questioned about their legacy, say I'll leave it up to the historians to define that. In any of your conversations with the president after he left office, did he ever tell you what he hoped his legacy would be as seen through history books?
KUHN: He did not. He was so low key about that. And I'll give an example of his unassuming nature. My family and I, we were in San Francisco, we drove down to see him at the ranch early one evening. Shortly after he gave one of his last great speeches at the Republican National Convention in Houston in 1992, which was just magnificent. And we were praising him, Nancy, and I and my wife and I were praising him over the great speech they gave. He was sitting in a chair blushing over that praise and couldn't -- didn't have a response, couldn't say a word, just very shy and we were embarrassing him. But that wasn't Ronald Reagan. He could not talk about his legacy.
ZAHN: We're going to take a pause now and listen to the ceremony as it unfolds.
BLITZER: Mrs. Reagan -- in -- holding the arm of Major General Galen Jackman, United States military. He's not simply a military protocol officer or an escort officer, he is a warrior. This is a soldier who served in an elite special operations commando unit, has seen his time in battle, but over these past several days, Paula, since Sunday, his mission has been simply this, to do whatever he can to make Mrs. Reagan's life a little bit easier.
ZAHN: And as she got off the plane, just now, she repeated the scene that we saw as she left Andrews Air Force Base where she took the time to wave to the crowd in Andrews Air Force Base, in fact. She blew a kiss to the crowd. She's now taking that opportunity, an opportunity she did not have earlier in the week, particularly as the procession made its way to the rotunda when people screamed out loud. The only thing breaking the silence was, "we love you, Nancy Reagan."
BLITZER: And she's followed down those stairs, Mrs. Reagan, by her friend, Margaret Thatcher who, as we all know, has not been in the best of health over these past several months. Had a series of minor strokes, but she did insist not only on coming to the United States, Paula, and enduring this transatlantic flight, but also insisted on joining Mrs. Reagan to fly back to California. What a gesture.
ZAHN: It's a wonderful gesture of friendship and she talked a lot about the roots of their friendship during her eulogy today. And she used some beautiful language, describing Ronald Reagan and his convictions and talked about the enormous impact she felt he had in bringing the Cold War to an end.
You know, Wolf, there are a couple different efforts under way, one by the U.S. military, one by the state of California, to share with the Reagan family much of what is being said around the country right now.
The U.S. military is going to gather some condolences, books not only collected here in Washington today, from all over the country. And in the state of California, at certain places, they are handing out blank pieces of white paper, 8-1/2-by-11, and asking the state's citizens to fill them out. And it is quite remarkable what some people have said.
One man named Gio (ph) said a great man that made possible a future for many immigrants to become U.S. citizens. In San Jose, someone wrote that the former president was a man -- no American president ever did more to bring back pride to the people and the American military.
And one would imagine, Jim Kuhn, that that would be something that would be extremely comforting to Nancy Reagan down the road, when she finally has the opportunity to absorb the enormity of what she's been through over the last six days.
KUHN: This will mean a lot to her, knowing that she has the support and that President Reagan, at the end, had this kind of support, this outpouring of sorrow that people have shown, and yet the upbeat side that they have conveyed throughout this week. That is something that will never leave her mind, very, very significant to her.
BLITZER: This is the motorcade that will bring the casket to the presidential library in Simi Valley, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
There is the hearse with the casket inside. It will be followed by the limousine carrying Nancy Reagan.
Our Larry King is already over at the presidential library. Larry, give our viewers a sense of what you see and what you know is about to happen there.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Thank you, Wolf.
We've been here for a number of hours. My wife and I came early because we were invited as well to the ceremony that will take place inside. Of course, duty calls, so I'll be out here. But my wife is in there. There was a wonderful reception, a tour of the library, about 700 guests. These are mostly Californians. Some flew in from nearby Oregon and Seattle and the like, but mostly California, a lot of movie people here, a lot of old friends.
These are old Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan friends. And the mood is, in a way, celebratory. It was a great life. They appreciated his friendship. There's not a great deal of sadness here. There certainly doesn't appear any sign of mourning. They're all praising their friend Nancy, as she deservedly deserves that praise.
This is a beautiful spot, Wolf. I don't know if you've been here -- I imagine you have -- or Paula. We're northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a gorgeous California day. Ronald Reagan picked out this site because he shot many Western films here in the Simi Valley area. And when you drive in, you can see how easily Westerns could have been shot here.
They're going on military time today. They're expecting to start this thing right on time. We'll be anchoring it and talking to some guests. We'll be talking more to you as the hour progresses. And it's a fitting end to an incredible week -- Wolf, Paula.
BLITZER: Larry, all of our viewers know that you've been, over these many years, close to the Reagan family, especially Nancy Reagan. Give us your sense, Larry, how you think she's holding up based on what you've seen and heard.
KING: Well, I'm amazed.
Nancy is going to be 82 years old. I know she's a strong lady, but she's strong in heart. She's not strong of body. Nancy Reagan is frail. She's very, very lightweight. She needs help and assistance in walking. She is not a youngster. But she is, in her heart, spry as ever. And we are all amazed at how well she has stood up in this trying week.
Now, being honest, he's been sick a long time, 10 years. This is not what we would call a greatly unexpected event. Yet, death is death. Parting is parting. Loss is loss. And she has had to put up with that, plus travel back and forth, facing the public, dignitaries, people coming from here and there, people asking her about stem cell research. And I'm confident she's going to get very involved in that battle as the days go on ahead.
But we are extraordinarily impressed. Anybody who watches this and is not impressed with Nancy Reagan is not living on the planet. She's been extraordinary. ZAHN: I think you got that right.
Larry, if you would, compare and contrast for us what we saw earlier today at the National Cathedral, this absolutely glorious service, where we heard world leaders speak, Margaret Thatcher eulogizing the former president, the former prime minister of Canada, and then the former President Bush, and the current President Bush talking about broad, sweeping international ideas.
And, more importantly, I think the common thread that ran through all those eulogies was the notion that this was a very optimistic man at his core and was born to inspire. Tonight, describe to us what you think we might hear, because the service will be so much more personal, in that you will be hearing remembrances from Ronald Reagan's children.
KING: Right. It will be more solemn.
It will be a long prayer service. There will be, except for the remembrances of the children, no speeches that I can see on the list. There will be some wonderful music provided by two Air Force bands and a Navy band. There will be a fitting ending. This will not be pomp and circumstance. It's not going to be all the -- well, the show that was put on this morning was incredible, I think.
Watching it from a television standpoint, I think they did a magnificent job. This will be a little different. But we will have a 21-gun salute. We will have "Taps" played at the end. It will be solemn. It will like when any -- if you go to a funeral of a friend or a neighbor and you attend the service, the service is one thing. The burial is another.
It will not nearly be as long. I think this will run tops one hour once it starts. I would put the mood as solemn and celebratory at the same time. This will be a grand send-off.
BLITZER: And Larry King, of course, will be there every step of the way.
Larry, stand by for a moment, as we see this motorcade begin to leave the Naval air station at Point Mugu, make its way over to where you are at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Already inside is our Candy Crowley. She is there as well.
Candy, give us a little bit of the flavor from your vantage point.
CROWLEY: Well, I'm inside looking north out into the valley.
This is one gorgeous day and has been all along. I'd say they are maybe a third full, maybe a little more than that. People have been kind of coming in. We've got about an hour before the program gets under way, so we've been sort of trying to celebrity spot here. We've seen Wayne Newton. We've seen a number of people in the movie industry. I think it's as Larry describes it. This is not -- it's a somber occasion, but this is not a weeping crowd. This is more a salute. I was looking at those kids in the pictures that are waving the flags out at Point Mugu. And if you didn't know what it was, it looks like the beginning of a rally. So this is sort of a mix here. They're starting to sing some of the songs that will come throughout this ceremony.
And, as Paula pointed out, the main speakers here will be the three children. So is this a very personal time for the Reagans and a time to bring in those that have known Ronald Reagan since the very beginning, well before the governorship, well before even he took over the union, was union president. So these are old friends coming to say goodbye, not in a weepy sort of way, a solemn way, yes.
But, remember, many of them and a couple of them I talked to, haven't seen Ronald Reagan in 10 years, really. So they had lost him and lost his closeness. And this is sort of the real end to it. So they've had 10 long years to be without him.
ZAHN: Candy, thanks so much.
Let's bring Jeff Greenfield back into the discussion.
Jeff, I know the tone of the ceremony that is about to unfold comes as no surprise to you. You have talked a lot this week about how, not only was Ronald Reagan the oldest man ever elected to be president, but this is a man who had been out of office for some 15 years. And the American public was very much in touch with his almost decade-long battle with Alzheimer's.
And you said this probably should be viewed as more -- the whole week's activities as more of a commemoration than anything else.
GREENFIELD: Yes. I think, when Larry King described it as more of a celebration, that just is fitting.
The other part that this reminds us of is that, you know, we never really know which presidents are going to be consequential and which will not. Every time there is an election, we always hear the same chant. How, in a nation this big, could we come up with these two guys? Is this any way to elect the president? What ever happened to great presidents? A hundred years ago, a British scholar wrote why great men are no longer chosen president. That was before Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
Well, we had that same reaction back in 1980. My lord, Carter and Reagan, is that the best we can do? What happened to the giants? And now, from a perspective 15 years later, again, we're going to have a lot of arguments about the policies that he implemented, but there is no question that Ronald Reagan was, in a political sense, a giant, I'll say it again, I think the most consequential president since FDR.
And it should remind us, as we judge the people who are running for high office now, we don't know what history is going to say about these people. We don't know whether, from the vantage of time, we're going to look back and say, you know, that president accomplished some really interesting things. He really changed the country. He changed our politics.
In the case of Reagan and the Cold War, along with Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa and a whole lot of other anonymous people, they literally changed the political face of the planet. Well, maybe that should be a lesson, Paula and Wolf, and I'm talking to myself now, that, as we look at this campaign ahead, we shouldn't be quite so quick to assume we know the dimensions of the people who we are going to choose to lead us. History has some very interesting lessons about that -- Paula.
ZAHN: We will shy away from any questions that ever lead you in that direction, Jeff Greenfield.
Jim Kuhn, just a quick reflection on what we've seen since the plane has landed with the president's casket.
KUHN: I wanted to comment first on Jeff's commentary about Ronald Reagan and being consequential.
And, at the end of the second term, when he would go off the cuff and would comment about the achievements that were made during his administration, the creation of 23 million new jobs, inflation well under control, interest rates low, a lot of unnecessary regulations eliminated, he'd stand by on the podium before the cameras in front of a large audience and say, but we didn't do it. We just got the heck out of the way. The American people did it, Ronald Reagan's classic way of never taking credit for anything.
ZAHN: A very humble man.
BLITZER: Vintage Ronald Reagan, indeed, as all of us remember.
Jim, stand by.
Larry King is over at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
I'm fascinated, Larry, by a point that you made earlier, that, if the service at the National Cathedral here in Washington earlier today was a celebration of Ronald Reagan's eight years as president of the United States, the service that is about to take place where you are will be a celebration of his earlier life, including those days in Hollywood. Talk a little bit about that.
KING: Ronald Reagan was a very popular American figure long before he entered politics.
While he was not what you would call a superstar, he was a rung below. His films were generally successful. He turned down the role in "Casablanca" which eventually went to Humphrey Bogart. There's a funny story. When Lew Wasserman and Sonny Werblin -- both have gone now -- were his agents, they were his agents throughout his career.
When Ronald Reagan was elected, at his inaugural, there was a receiving line at a big party. When Lew Wasserman and Sonny Werblin walked up to him, he said to them, if you guys were better agents, I wouldn't have this job. That's the kind of stories that people are telling here at the reception, stories of Ronald Reagan as an actor, as a broadcaster back in Illinois.
And then the service that you're going to see will begin -- if it begins promptly -- and military guys usually begin promptly -- it will start at 9:00 Eastern. There will be "Hail to the Chief." By the way, the first living president to be honored with that was Andrew Jackson in 1829. There will be an invocation, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," words of remembrance from the children.
We have a statement from Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan's first wife, who says that he was a great, kind and gentle man and that America has lost a great president. The Reverend John Danforth, the former senator, will also be tapped to recite the lord is my shepherd, the reading of the 23 Psalm. There will be ruffles and flourished, the national anthem, the hymn "My Country 'Tis of Thee," the witness from the authisicant (ph), the 21-gun salute, the benediction, a three- volume musketry and "Taps." That is the program coming ahead.
BLITZER: And, Larry, you're going to walk us through every step of that program, starting at the top of the hour, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific.
Larry, stand by.
Paula wants to bring in one of our reporters along the motorcade.
ZAHN: Yes, we're just beginning to get a sense for some of these pictures, how many people have gathered along this procession route to pay their respects to Ronald Reagan.
Let's check in with Miguel Marquez, who has been out there most of the afternoon as these lines began to develop.
Miguel, share with us what you've seen.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, California's Department of Public Safety believes that tens of thousands of people will show up.
They say that their estimates run as high as 300,000, between 100,000 and 300,000 people will line the routes, 29 miles. It will take about 45 minutes for that car, the hearse carrying the body of President Reagan, to make its way up to the library.
There are mostly Republicans out here that we have found. And as Larry King said a short time ago, even though it's a solemn day, it's certainly celebratory up there at the library. And it's certainly celebratory down here by more people than just Republicans, though.
I want to bring in Mary Laurie (ph), who is a lifelong Democrat and also a Reagan voter, a Reagan Democrat.
Why -- what was so special about this president? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a president, he had already served wonderful terms as governor in the state of California, so I had to vote for a native Californian and Irish descendent, also.
And he brought back all the pride in the military after Vietnam. I'm the wife of a Vietnam veteran and a mother of a son who is in the service as well.
MARQUEZ: We should say, you're also a fifth generation Californian. Why was it so important to come out here today?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just felt I had to be part of the history of California and the United States at this time. My family came to California during the gold rush and has lived here ever since. And he is part of California history.
MARQUEZ: And your most enduring memory of the president?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually, I liked his movies, too. I was a kid when they were on TV.
But I remember, my father met him one time when he was working for the U.S. government in the San Francisco -- or Sacramento office of the governor. And the picture hangs on my father's wall to this day with him shaking Reagan's hand.
MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. Very nice to meet you.
We also have somebody out here who was even too young to ever vote for Ronald Reagan. But he's out here today, born in 1978, was in the Navy.
The first person you voted for, Corey Hughes (ph), here with me, was Bill Clinton in 1996. Why come out here today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think that it's a really big event. There's so many people out here young and old. And it's just really amazing to see just so many people come out in just support and respect. Whether they voted for him or not and whether they respected what he did or not, they just know that he was a very important person in our country.
MARQUEZ: Do you have any memory of Ronald Reagan and what is your most enduring memory?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was growing up, you know, below 10 years old when he was a president in office, but I just -- I do remember knowing a lot about him and just learning about him in school and watching a lot of the great things that he was accomplishing.
I may have been too young to completely understand what was going on, but, looking back now, I really realize how many great things he did for our country and other countries as well.
MARQUEZ: It's certainly a week of remembrance and memory of him. What has moved you the most during this week?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, on Monday night, when I stood in line for seven hours up at the Moorpark College in order to get to the library, it was just amazing to see the military members standing next to the coffin. And it was just a very moving experience. And I gave a salute for him and everything, because, you know, being a veteran and just to really show my respect for the man.
MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. Very nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
MARQUEZ: Take care.
So, tens of thousands of people out here, certainly at this point. They may expect more. The hearse and the motorcade, the final motorcade for the former president, will be by here in about 15, 20 minutes, it seems, on its way to Simi Valley, the Reagan National Library, halfway between Bel Air, where he lived, and Rancho del Cielo, the ranch of the sky, his ranch up in Santa Barbara, where he made it so famous during his presidency -- back to you guys.
ZAHN: And, Miguel, how far into the motorcade route are you?
MARQUEZ: We're a few miles south or southwest of the library itself. This is one of the most heavily peopled areas that we've seen on the motorcade so far, but some of the pictures I understand there is just people lining most of the route -- Paula.
ZAHN: Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.
We're going to check back in with Candy Crowley, who is standing by inside the Reagan Presidential Library.
You know, Candy, every time I hear one of these young men or women talking, particularly those who weren't around when President Reagan was president, talking about what it was that touched him, that seems to be a pretty common thread of so many of the people we've heard from. I'm sure you've seen it there. There was something about his sense of patriotism and his eternal optimism that touches these folks.
CROWLEY: Absolutely, although this is a group, most of whom personally knew Ronald Reagan, either through his Hollywood career.
We've seen Mickey Rooney here today. Charlton Heston was on the list. We've seen Wayne Newton, and also through what was a very close group of friends, pre-governor days, the widows of some of the old friends of Ronald Reagan. So this is old money and old Hollywood, but there are some young faces here.
And there are also a number of members of the former president's staff who have come. And it gives it this kind of a reunion sense. Even as the military chorus plays what obviously are funeral songs, there's still a feeling of old friends getting together to say goodbye to another old friend. So, it's a pretty quiet group, but not a down group. So they come in. They greet each other.
And, again, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of these people have not seen Ronald Reagan for 10 years. So these roots of these 700 or so people that are here go way back over the 93 years of Ronald Reagan's career in various spots, including Iowa, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C.
As you mentioned, Margaret Thatcher is coming here on the plane. And, again, we will hear from the children for the first time since we learned that their father had died -- Paula.
ZAHN: Candy, thanks so much.
As we continue to watch the motorcade proceed towards the library, Wolf, I'm struck by the number of references made in the eulogies today about how Ronald Reagan's greatness not only came from his political genius, but it was born out of his relationship in many ways with his wife, Nancy.
And there is one thing we're going to share with our audience now. It is their love of music. No one loved music more than Ronald and Nancy Reagan. They loved lyrics. They loved rhythm. They loved to dance, especially to American pop music. And their song was, "Our Love is Here to Stay," by Ira and George Gershwin, so much so that Ronnie, as Nancy would call him, would have actually Nancy sing it to him.
They also loved the rendition of the incomparable Michael Feinstein, a Gershwin aficionado who was often invited by the Reagans to play at the White House. And, yesterday, Michael Feinstein played for us at the Jefferson Hotel here in the Washington.
ZAHN: Great to see you.
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN, MUSICIAN: Thank you. Likewise.
ZAHN: What happened the first time the Reagans heard you play?
FEINSTEIN: It was at the Annenbergs' home and I was playing "Somewhere My Love" from "Dr. Zhivago." President Reagan, whom I had never met, came over and said, you know, I think that that song added a lot to the success of the movie. I said, I agree with you, Mr. President, because songs do expand the success of the film.
And I said, do you know this movie theme?
FEINSTEIN: And he looked at me and he said, that's "Kings Row." That was my best movie. And I said, yes, I'm glad you recognized it. And from then, from there, we had a conversation about music. And I discovered that he was an avid fan of American popular music and knew a lot about composers and songwriters.
And I was in heaven listening to the president of the United States not only tell me stories about great songwriters, but also hearing him sing at the sing-alongs at the Annenbergs later.
ZAHN: What was it about their favorite song, "Our Love is Here to Stay," that spoke to them? Was it the beautiful lyrics?
FEINSTEIN: I think the combination of the music and the lyrics being so eloquent, Ira writing that lyric after the death of his younger brother George and the meaning of that song about how everything in the world is changing, but this is something that is real and is lasting and it's going to be around forever.
And, clearly, anybody who was ever with the Reagans in a social setting saw this tremendous love between them. And whenever I would start to play that song, as I did on many occasions, they would always hold hands and they would look at each other in a way as if they had just met and fallen in love.
ZAHN: And I understand it was very painful for you to play it the last time you played it at Nancy Reagan's birthday party that the president wasn't capable of attending.
FEINSTEIN: Yes, that was tough, because Nancy was -- you could see a world of memories in her eyes. And everybody was just feeling this palpable grief for everything that she's gone through and seeing an era disappear before her eyes.
ZAHN: Would you play the song for us now?
FEINSTEIN: With pleasure.
(MICHAEL FEINSTEIN SINGS "OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY")
FEINSTEIN: Goodbye, Mr. President.
ZAHN: What a beautiful look back at so many of those memories in the Reagans' life.
I know, Wolf, you've had a chance to read some of what Nancy Reagan wrote this week in "TIME" magazine. And I think it was so beautiful when she said -- when she wrote of her husband: "I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie. He was a man of strong principles and integrity. He had absolutely no ego. He was comfortable in his own skin. Therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone. He said what he thought and he believed."
BLITZER: Paula, that was so beautiful, the way Michael Feinstein did that, the way you went over to the Jefferson Hotel and got him to sing that song. That love affair is so special.
Let me just point out to those viewers who may just be tuning in, on the left part of our screen, we're seeing the motorcade make its way over to the presidential library, the Reagan Presidential Library. The right part of the screen, we already see the library where the service will take place, scheduled to begin in about a half-hour or so from now.
Larry King is going to be walking us through that service shortly, no one more qualified to better help us understand what is about to unfold.
Larry, when you heard Michael Feinstein sing that song, knowing this love affair between Ronald and Nancy Reagan as well as you do, what went through your mind?
KING: Of course, we talked about that song a lot.
I would have lunch with Nancy, I would say, once a month. In fact, I had the honor of emceeing that dinner two weeks ago when she made that strong statement about embryonic stem cell research. She loved that song. That was their song. They had an incredible romance. It was a romance right from the get-go.
In fact, in March of 1995, Nancy took me on a tour of the Reagan library here in Simi Valley, and there were some great stories, including one about the marriage proposal from Ron. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Did he propose?
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Of course! He called my father.
KING: Before he asked you?
REAGAN: And my father said fine.
KING: And how'd he ask you, and where?
REAGAN: He asked me at home. We were at home.
KING: His house or...
REAGAN: My home. My apartment.
KING: And he said casually, I called your dad?
REAGAN: Yes, and it's all right with your family. Is it all right with you?
KING: Were you coy?
REAGAN: And I don't think he thought I would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And by the way, tomorrow night, we're going to repeat on "LARRY KING LIVE" a bunch of interviews I did with Nancy Reagan, tie them all together. And then Sunday night, Wolf and Paula, we'll repeat the last interview we did with the president. That was back in late 1990 or early 1991. So Nancy Reagan tomorrow night and President Reagan on Sunday night.
Now, the beginning of this motorcade is starting to come right behind us. We just saw a couple of motorcycles and a van go by. That tells us that it's not too far away, and they're going to keep right the time. This thing should start right on time, guys -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Larry, as you point out, this whole week has been military precision personified. Almost everything has unfolded to the second, literally. There was one very, very brief scare when the presidential jet bringing the casket to Washington on Wednesday was about to touch down. Just before that, there was a false alarm. There was a private jet, of course, that had moved into restricted air space in Washington. We all got scared. The governor of Kentucky's pilot, obviously, had a technical problem. It looked like there could be something going on. Thank God, it was nothing. Thank God, everything came back to schedule, Larry, and it's been very precise, like clockwork, ever since.
Larry, give our viewers a sense of the people that you know, the friends from the early days of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who are going to be there at this funeral service.
KING: Well, Wolf, I've seen -- and by the way, that was not the motorcade. It was sort of like a preview of the motorcade. It was a couple of motorcycles and a van, sort of, like, Here's what the motorcade is going to be like when it gets here in a little while.
Someone mentioned Walter Annenberg. Mrs. Annenberg is here. Walter Annenberg was a great friend of the Reagans, former ambassador, founder of a newspaper chain. He's contributed more to American education than any individual who ever lived. His widow is here. Betsy Bloomingdale, Nancy's closest friend -- someone in Washington reported that Betsy was at the Washington ceremony. She was not. She is here today. And there are many, many, like, wives of producers, writers, people who worked with him. Warren Cowan was his publicist, Warren Cowan telling everyone the story about how Ronald Reagan for many years would not fly, was afraid to fly. And then when he decided to run for governor, decided that he had to learn to fly, had to accept flying. So they took a flight, he and Nancy, to Dallas, stayed in a hotel, flew back. And that began the jaunt to the governorship and eventually the presidency. Had that flight been upsetting, who knows what -- how history might have been -- might have been written. But I must point out that -- and I say it again -- these 700 group of invited guests are all, all of them to a core, people who knew and loved Ronald Reagan and are close, close friends of Nancy Reagan. This is going -- when this ends tonight at -- it's supposed to be over at about 12 minutes after 10:00 Eastern time, there's going to be a lot of hugging and tears and laughter in that room because when old friends get together, especially the Irish vernacular, anything can happen.
This is a very special night and a very special ending to a very special week -- Wolf, Paula.
ZAHN: Thank you, Larry -- Larry just describing to us how, really, this service reflecting an entirely different part of Ronald Reagan than we heard earlier today at the National Cathedral. And he talked a little bit about friends being gathered not only from the movie days, but maybe some even representing his days in radio.
And Jeff Greenfield, as we bring you back in the conversation here, we should not underestimate the value of the gifts that the president developed during his radio days, not only in learning the cadence that would later become effective in speeches but learning how to connect with an audience.
GREENFIELD: There were a couple of things about Reagan's earlier life that I think get a little short shrift because the actor element of it becomes important. And it was. He was a natural in front of the camera. He knew the Hollywood press, and that was not bad training for the political press in terms of not taking them too seriously.
But the point you mention is very important, Paula. We talked about that, I think, the first night. Reagan was a man who grew up in the radio, not television era, and he was one of the most gifted speakers for the ear of anybody I've ever seen in politics. He understood inflection. He understood language. His hero was, after all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose "fireside chats" became famous.
And the other part of that career was when he went to work for General Electric. Older folks like me remember him as host of "The GE Theater." He went across the country talking to GE workers in plants and factories and offices all over the country, answering questions. He had more experience talking face-to-face with ordinary Americans than any politician who spent his or her life in a state legislature or Congress.
The last thing I just want to mention -- and this is a certain irony -- Hollywood is and always has been a overwhelming liberal community. We had a glimpse of Norman Lear coming into the ceremony tonight, Norman Lear, creator of "All In the Family," creator also of People for the American Way, a liberal interest group. The people that Larry mentioned and you mentioned -- Wayne Newton, Tom Selleck, Charlton Heston -- are a group of sort of semi-endangered Hollywood conservatives. I'm using that phrase ironically. Charlton Heston became famous most recently not as Moses or as Michelangelo but as the spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. And I believe -- correct me if I'm wrong -- he is now waging his own battle with an early form of Alzheimer's disease.
So part of what we're seeing here is Ronald Reagan, the man from Hollywood, but whose politics were sharply at variance as he developed them in later years with the overwhelming Hollywood liberal community -- Paula.
ZAHN: Thank you, Jeff. We are continuing to watch the motorcade as it gets closer to the library. And I think, Wolf, that's where we're going to catch up with Candy Crowley now.
BLITZER: The motorcade is moving along at some 20 miles per hour. That's the tradition of these motorcades for these state funerals, and there haven't been a whole lot of them in American history.
Candy, you're already inside. Have most of the guests already arrived?
CROWLEY: Yes, most of the guests are here, Wolf. Right now, we're seeing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Three's a California wing here of politicians, as well. We've seen former governor Pete Wilson, former LA mayor Riordan. So again, a mix of old friends, old Hollywood, Republican politicians, as I say, the -- Governor Schwarzenegger has just arrived with his wife, Maria Shriver, obviously, a Democrat. It's been very quiet, once they walk in here and sit down and begin to listen to the U.S. Air Force Band. So again, a gorgeous day. There will be a sunset ceremony.
They basically -- I'm not sure what you can see behind me, but they are seated, and it would be fascinating to know who did the seating arrangement, but by section, so they were given a section they were supposed to sit in. And they're are moving slowly in -- Wayne Newton, Wayne Gretzky of hockey fame, Mickey Rooney, any number of people that we do recognize from times past. So this is very much a family-and-friend gathering here and very much a time for these people to reconnect with one another because, in fact, they have neither seen Ronald Reagan nor each other in a long time. So this has the feel, a bit, of a reunion to send off an old friend.
BLITZER: The governor of California speaking with the former governor of California, Pete Wilson. They're both -- they've both come -- Maria Shriver sitting in the middle -- to pay their respects to Ronald Reagan.
Candy, as I see the governor of California sitting there, Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself, an actor, now the governor of California, there's only one tiny detail that prevents him from possibly moving up to higher office, namely, the fact he was born in Austria, not born in the United States. Otherwise, Candy -- and you cover politics -- Arnold Schwarzenegger is pretty popular in California right now, isn't he.
CROWLEY: Absolutely, right now. And sic transit gloria. We know that these things can be fleeting, but right now, he's quite popular. And in fact, he has said before that he had a poster of Ronald Reagan in his room. He very much liked Ronald Reagan, very much looked up to him when he came over from Austria as a poor immigrant and then began to find his gold here in the west. So there is a connection over the generations between this Republican governor and Ronald Reagan.
ZAHN: Thank you, Candy. And soon, of course, the sun will be setting on a spectacular California day. But this morning, it was tucked behind somber clouds and rain in Washington as the nation began a final good-bye to its 40th president.
(voice-over): A very public day began with private words, a moment of tenderness, Nancy Reagan caressing the casket, appearing to speak to her husband one last time.
With this, the nation witnessed the ritual of the first presidential state funeral since Lyndon Johnson 31 years ago. At the National Cathedral, former presidents Ford, Carter, Bush and Clinton joined president George W. Bush and dignitaries from around the world. Many of today's speakers were chosen personally by President Reagan. Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney spoke of Reagan, the statesman.
BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Ronald Reagan was a president who inspired his nation and transformed the world.
ZAHN: And former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher spoke of Reagan, the friend.
MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: In his lifetime, Ronald Reagan was such a cheerful and invigorating presence that it was easy to forget what daunting historic task he set himself.
ZAHN: Too frail for public speaking after suffering a series of strokes, Mrs. Thatcher recorded her remarks months ago. And then these emotional words from president Reagan's loyal vice president.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all of my years of public life.
ZAHN: And from President George W. Bush.
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His convictions were always politely stated, affably argued and as firm and straight as the columns of this cathedral.
ZAHN: As the family looked on, the president paid tribute to the love of Ronald Reagan's life.
BUSH: In a life of good fortune, he valued above all the gracious gift of his wife, Nancy. During his career, Ronald Reagan passed through a thousand crowded places, but there was only one person, he said, who could make him lonely by just leaving the room.
ZAHN: Ronald Reagan's final good-bye in the nation's capital, a 21-gun salute for the former commander-in-chief at Andrews Air Force Base and the long journey home to his resting place in California.
As we watch the procession continue towards the library, Jim Kuhn, we all were, I think, moved by the majesty of what we saw unfold here in Washington today. You were actually at the service at the National Cathedral. Having been the executive assistant to President Reagan, what struck you most about the eulogies and the common thread we saw in the eulogies?
KUHN: The -- certainly, the remarks by Prime Minister Thatcher, former prime minister Thatcher and former prime minister Mulroney, but even more significantly, what former President Bush said, the impact that Ronald Reagan had on his life, more so than anybody else in all of his public years.
ZAHN: Why that -- it was particularly, I think, touching to a lot of people to see is former president Bush isn't one publicly given to sharing his emotions.
KUHN: Yes. And it's something that I think a lot of us that logged a lot of years with Ronald Reagan were hoping for and maybe expected years earlier, when that exchange of power took place 15-and- a-half years ago. And -- but once George Bush was very gracious to the Reagans and was never, ever in the eight years he was vice president -- was loyal and never upstaged the president once. But there was never that significant statement that I guess we were all looking for, and it happened today. He is such a class man. He waited until the final day to deliver those words.
ZAHN: And what were you looking for, just the acknowledgment...
ZAHN: ... that Ronald Reagan was...
KUHN: And what Ronald...
BROWN: ... a gifted human being and what his contribution was?
KUHN: Correct. Correct. And he said it today. He said so eloquently.
BLITZER: And he said it with such sentimentality, he choked up and...
KUHN: So much (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
BLITZER: ... almost broke down. Jim, stand by.
Miguel Marquez is along this motorcade route. He's watching with the crowds. Miguel, tell us where you are and what you're seeing.
MARQUEZ: Well, we're a few miles south/southwest of the library. I want to bring somebody in. DPS is expecting -- Department of Public Safety expecting about 100,000, maybe as many as 300,000 people to line this route. I'm here with a very special person. You hang out in California for any -- any length of time, and you find somebody famous. Sparky Anderson of baseball fame, what made this president so special?
SPARKY ANDERSON, FORMER TIGERS MANAGER: He -- the people believed him. They felt -- OK, I'll put it this way. You ask what was Ronald Reagan, you could touch him. That means this, when people say, What do you mean you can -- that means he never goes above you, he never goes below you. He is you. Like Ronald Reagan -- I talked to him on the phone when we won in '84, and he was unbelievable. And a great Cub fan, you know, and I told him, Sorry it wasn't the Cubs, but you're the greatest announcer -- well, Vin Scully might be, but you're the greatest announcer I've ever heard. And he just laughed like that. He loved baseball, but he loved people more than anything.
MARQUEZ: It transcended politics, as well?
ANDERSON: Oh, gosh! You know, this thing about politics -- he was able to be him. He come from a poor environment. How many presidents of the United States were poor? I want to know. List them all. This guy was for real. And as I said, if ever we've had a president in my time, 70 years, nobody was like Ronald Reagan.
MARQUEZ: Thank you very much, sir. I just love this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) know who you're going to find on the street. He's out here to see the motorcade come by. We expect it in just a few minutes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel Marquez along this motorcade, this motorcade moving, Paula, at approximately 20 miles per hour. That's the custom, the tradition, the hearse leading this motorcade, followed by the limousine carrying Nancy Reagan to this service at the presidential library.
ZAHN: And we have learned now that most of the invited guests are already at the library, in place. And I think we should go back to Larry King now to get a better sense of what he is seeing from there. Larry, as you hear a couple of guest reporters we've talked with tonight, it's a reminder how effectively President Reagan was able to bridge that gap between his onetime life in Hollywood with his life in Washington.
KING: Very well said, Paula, and very great working with you, by the way. And we thank Paula Zahn and Wolf Blitzer. We'll be checking back in with Wolf as we take things over here in Simi Valley.
And joining us is Gary Foster, a very close friend of the Reagan family, the former White House staffer, one of the key organizers of today's ceremony and director of press advance for Ronald Reagan. How's it going so far?
GARY FOSTER, REAGAN WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: Not a hitch, actually. You know, it's unbelievable. Over the last five days, we've gotten a hundred thousand people up this mountaintop to let them pay respects to the president. We've organized an event that we think will do just beautiful justice to the president in a couple hours here. KING: What was the most difficult part?
FOSTER: It was probably the logistical aspect of getting all of those people up to this mountaintop. You know, there's -- there was an unbelievable outpouring of affection for the president. But unfortunately, it was rather challenging to let them come up here. And there's no parking. There's windy roads. So we worked with quite a few municipalities' law enforcement. They could not have been more cooperative.
KING: With us is Gary Foster. Let's check in in Washington with former senator Bob Dole, a Republican presidential nominee. Senator Dole, what were your thoughts watching that this morning and watching this tonight?
BOB DOLE (R-KS), FORMER SENATOR: I was so pleased that so many people, just good middle-class Americans, still believe in Ronald Reagan and what he stood for and the changes he made in America. You didn't see many -- many suits, many ties. You just saw a lot of great Americans who loved this guy because, as Sparky Anderson just said a few minutes ago, you know, he knew who he was and he was as nice to you as he was to the next guy or the next lady or whatever. Whether you're rich, poor, whatever religion, whatever color, it didn't make any difference to President Reagan.
KING: Would you call it, Senator Dole, a fitting tribute?
DOLE: Oh, I thought it was very fitting. I mean, he had people there that -- had, you know, Vice President Bush, then President Bush, and then the real President Bush, and Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister Mulroney. And they're just a very fitting tribute to a great guy.
KING: With us at the Hilton Hotel in Houston, Texas, where he'll be participating in the 80th birthday party tomorrow night of President George Bush, 41, is Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader.
And Mr. President, what were you thinking as you approached the casket yesterday afternoon? What was going through your mind?
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE SOVIET UNION (through translator): Well, given these days, I've been thinking again about many things that happened in the past. It was the will of destiny that at the most difficult time that the world was going through, when it seemed that only a miracle could stop the process of confrontation and of tension, we were able together to stop it, and this was done, thanks to the fact that the U.S. leadership, particularly the president of the United States, President Reagan, and the Soviet leadership understood where the world was moving and how far the arms race had gone.
I remembered, when I was there, the history between us. It is really unique. It all began when, after the first meeting in Geneva, we even exchanged some bitter remarks. But in Geneva, two days were enough for us to begin to understand each other, and we adopted a statement saying that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. It was a difficult dialogue. I do not want to be simplistic. It was a very difficult dialogue. But then trust emerged, and it became easier to solve problems. And he turned out to be the person of whom we were able to get along and then to become friends. And my...
KING: Mikhail Gorbachev, we'll be joining back -- we'll be checking back -- we'll be checking back with the former president of the Soviet Union. Let's go back to Washington. Ed Meese, the attorney general in the Reagan administration from 1985 through '88. Ed Meese is a California -- why aren't you out here, Ed?
ED MEESE, REAGAN'S ATTORNEY GENERAL: I couldn't get back there. I was here for today's ceremonies, and I have to be here in Virginia tomorrow.
KING: What did you think of the ceremonies today?
MEESE: I thought they were outstanding. I thought they were extremely fitting for Ronald Reagan. I think it was a way in which we combine two things. One, a picture of him as president and what he accomplished for the country, but also, I think through the tributes and through what has happened through this whole week, was this outpouring of affection and gratitude from the American people. I thought all that was combined in the talks and in the ceremony today. I think, particularly, the music, everything combined to be a most appropriate tribute to a great president.
KING: The motorcade is approaching. Wolf Blitzer, what was your assessment of what happened this morning?
BLITZER: I think it was an incredible day, historically speaking, for all Americans. And what I was also impressed by was the fact that people all over the world, Larry, were watching this event. CNN and CNN International carried this live more than 200 countries around the world, and I think they were impressed. This is the first time in more than 30 years we've had this here in the United States, and it's the closest thing we get to some sort of event along this kind of -- along these lines, a national day of mourning, a state funeral -- Ronald Reagan, who did so much to change the world, literally -- I don't think you can say he single-handedly ended the cold war and defeated the Soviet Union, but the steps that he took, I don't think there's any doubt, at least contributed significantly to that event -- those events. And I think the outpouring of affection reflected that.
KING: Gary Foster, we are seeing something extraordinary here. There's the motorcade heading close up to us now. Now, the other side of the road, the people heading east or south, they're all -- it's like a parking lot. I guess they're just looking, right? No one's stopping them.
FOSTER: Right. They're not forced to stop. They're doing it on their own.
KING: This is something to watch. I guess that's just a way of paying respect.
FOSTER: You know -- you know, being in Simi Valley, it's about halfway between Los Angeles and his beloved ranch up in Santa Barbara, so this is truly the heart of Reagan country right here, so it's not surprising that we're going to be seeing large crowds.
KING: Bob Dole, what do you think his legacy will be?
DOLE: Well, first let me say it's an honor to be on the program with President Gorbachev. I mean, it takes two to tango, and without the friendship that developed between the presidents, you know, I don't know what would of happened. But because they were able to, you know, cut through a lot of the bureaucracy and trust each other, the world is certainly a safer place. And I want to thank him for that.
I think President Reagan divided -- my view -- now, Ed Meese was much closer to President Reagan than I was, but from a legislator's standpoint, the first term was sort of domestic policy, the second term was foreign policy. And I think there are probably three things that'll be in the legacy. First of all, the domestic policy, the tax cuts, the economy, and then, of course, helping or being the primary mover and ending the cold war.
But even as almost up there as those two, are uplifting the American people, the morale of the American people. They were looking for someone like President Reagan, and they respected him and they looked up to him. And that was very, very important because we'd been in this period of malaise. People had sort of given up on America. But he made us proud again.
KING: President Gorbachev, we know of the wonderful relationship you had with your late wife, Raisa. When you were together with the Reagans, was that comparable? Did you see a lot in them of what you had with your wife?
GORBACHEV (through translator): I believe you are right. We saw, and everyone saw, the relationship. Ronald and Nancy never concealed their love, their relationship. They were extremely close. They were real friends. And this was really something similar, although, of course, each of us has one's own life and destiny, but just like President Reagan, I received great support from my wife, moral support. And I admire Nancy Reagan. She is a wonderful, a beautiful woman, and in her grief, she was very courageous. This is a wonderful example of a family and of the kind of relations between man and woman and of a role a woman in the life of a political leader. Yesterday, I had a meeting with her, and we had a very sincere and warm conversation about that time. And we have been in contact with Nancy Reagan these years. We've been in correspondence all these years.
KING: Boy, that's very nice to hear. Ed Meese, are you at all surprised by the outpouring this week?
MEESE: Well, I think all of us have been very gratified by the extent. I know we all expected it, but I must say, it's exceeded even my expectations of how the public would react. And I think what happened in California with, I understand, over a hundred thousand people lining up -- people were still lined up here today when they had to cut off the viewing. And I think that this outpouring of affection and gratitude is just a tremendous thing for recognition of this great president.
KING: If you're just joining us, we're in Simi Valley. I'm Larry King. This is kind of a special decision of LARRY KING LIVE. It is the coverage of the laying to rest of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. That caravan -- there you see the lead car -- is approaching the Reagan library here at Simi Valley, where 700 friends of the former president, the late president, and the first lady are gathered for this special service.
Wolf Blitzer, were you and -- I don't know if Paula's still with you, but were you surprised at the outpouring?
BLITZER: Yes, I was surprised. I was, a week ago at this time, Larry, in Normandy, getting ready to cover the 60th anniversary of D- Day. And all of a sudden, of course, we began to get word early that Saturday morning, a week ago tomorrow, that Ronald Reagan may be getting close to the end. And of course, we began to prepare for that development. But even when it happened, around 1:00 PM Pacific time Saturday afternoon and 4:00 o'clock Eastern time in the afternoon -- it was already late into the night in France -- it did come as a significant, a stunning development, even though, I guess, with hindsight, none of us should have been all that surprised.
I didn't really know what to anticipate in the days that followed, but I must say this week-long official period of mourning here in the United States and the way -- the outpouring of solidarity, of support for Ronald Reagan, the expressions of friendship not only, of course, by those who loved him, the Republicans and conservatives, but also by Democrats and liberals who have come out. And that demonstration was reflected, Larry, if you looked at the audience at the National Cathedral today, they were all there.
KING: Well, Gary, I know military things weren't on time, but guess what? We're running a bit late. They tell us about 12 minutes from now, it should have arrived now. So, Mr. Foster, how do we explain this?
FOSTER: We actually had a little time built in to allow the motorcade to slow down when he gets to some residential areas, to let people pay their respects one last time. So we're fully aware, and I think it will still go off without a hitch once he gets up here.
KING: Is that some sort of rule that Wolf mentioned, 20 miles an hour?
FOSTER: It will actually, maybe, slow down to as slow as 5 or 10 miles an hour once he gets into some residential areas here in a few blocks. But, no, there's no rule.
KING: Senator Dole, have you ever seen anything like this?
DOLE: Not really. No, and I've been around for awhile. But, you know, I would get up in the middle of the night and turn on C-Span and they were still passing through the Capitol, and it was really impressive. But, you know, everybody agrees that President Reagan was a great guy. A nice guy, we also, he had a great record.
We sometimes overlook the record what he was able to achieve. We didn't win 'em all. I remember one time we had a big victory. He called and said what can I do for you? I said please call my mother, she's in the hospital. He said, give me her number. He made the call within 30 minutes.
KING: Anyone who knew him knew he was that kind of guy. We were at a wedding once, Gary, I was having lunch with him and Nancy at the Bel Air Hotel, and that day a couple was getting married. And he poked me in the elbow and he said let's go over and take pictures with them. And we walked over, and we were suddenly in the wedding party.
FOSTER: You know, and it's a shame that, because of the confines that he had when he was president, even governor to a certain extent, that he couldn't do a lot of that, because he really enjoyed it.
Once he left office and came back here to California, there are stories like that all the time. He'd go to church and hang out for, you know, half hour just greeting people. And be seen on the golf course. And people would approach him, and he'd tell stories and jokes, and just, you know, I think relish actually being out of office so he could do quite a bit of that.
KING: What are the plans, Gary, regarding the children speaking today?
FOSTER: This will be the first time. And all three of them will speak. And quite honestly, they will -- we have not been told what they will say or read. But, this will be the first and only time that they will actually participate in any of the services.
KING: President Gorbachev, is the late President Reagan a popular figure in Russia?
GORBACHEV (through translator): Well, certainly, he is among those who are remembered. And they remember his visit to Moscow. They remember his behavior. They remember his remarks.
President Reagan was initially considered as just a hawk, as just a person who is a fierce anti-communist, and who had some kind of special hatred toward the Soviet Union. But, time later showed that while, indeed, there were things that he rejected, that he could not accept, and he rejected those things that we ultimately rejected, too.
But he was a person who had a big heart, a person who had his values, and a person for whom the wish to do something, the wish to make a difference, the wish to support his friends, but in particular to support the entire nation, to support the mood of the entire nation, this was very, very typical of him. I saw that, and I valued those qualities of President Reagan.
And that's why we were able to get along fairly quickly. Because we worked together, not for too many years, but we were able to do a great deal together. You know, starting these of the kind that we started, starting the process of reducing nuclear weapons, of ending the arms race, it's difficult and hard. It's hard work, but we were able to get along, we were able to speak candidly to each other.
My opinion of his human qualities, also, is very high. He was a great president. He was a wonderful man. He was an extraordinary person.
KING: This motorcade has slowed down considerably. I notice they just got off at Lynn Road, Gary. Will you give us the proximity of Lynn Road to where we are?
FOSTER: It's just about five or 10 miles from here. But it will take awhile to come up, because they're going to slow down. Because, as you can see, this is more of a residential area. And the crowds are, I don't know 15 people deep. And so they're going to allow everybody to, as I said before, pay their respects.
We actually have been advertising this route for quite awhile for those who weren't able to either make it to the library or the U.S. Capitol, to actually, you know, say good-bye one more time.
KING: What do you think it is? Maybe this is for everyone. What do you think it is, we'll start with you, Gary, that brings people out to sit and wait and wait and wait to see a car go by?
FOSTER: I would say, you know, it's a combination of everything that everybody has already said. He touched people in so many different ways, whether it was his policies or striking a chord from, you know, the less government, and ending the Cold War or his just unbelievable humility and warmness that he portrayed, both in public, through just his appearances, but then also, as you said, in private. I just think there's, you know, this just did not have an enemy in the world.
KING: Senator Dole, what do you think it is, that people would come out just like this on a beautiful afternoon, just stand on the street?
DOLE: I think there are a lot of similarities between my hero President Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. They had that big smile, and they had a lot of respect for different reasons from the American people. Cut across party lines, ethnic lines, race.
And they are parallels between President Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Whether it's cutting taxes, whether it's trying to reduce the bureaucracy. I think President Reagan knew precisely who he was, and the American people liked what they saw. And what you saw is what you got.
KING: President Gorbachev, what do you think of the turnout and the events this week, and people lining streets? And over 100,000 coming to the Capitol, and so many coming here to Simi Valley. What do you think of this, of the public's love for him? GORBACHEV (through translator): Well, that just goes to show, to prove, that I was right when I've been saying over these days, both in Russia, and here, when I came here, that President Reagan certainly was someone who did a great deal for his own nation and for the world. And I think that people are paying tribute to this man who was thinking about people, and who was doing a great deal for the people to make their lives better.
KING: But he certainly, Ed Meese, was not not controversial, right? I mean, there was a lot of people who disagreed strongly with Reagan policies.
MEESE: That he was controversial in the sense that he had policies that some people disagreed with, but I think part of it was the fact that he could deal with people who disagreed, without being disagreeable. And I know that's a cliche, but it certainly was true in his case.
You remember Tip O'Neill, when Tip was speaker of the House of Representatives, there was a lot of differences of opinion on a number of subjects from tax cuts to supporting the freedom fighters in Nicaragua. But, as Ronald Reagan used to say, after 6:00 we're friends. And so they would put aside the differences, they'd have a drink or two together, and swap Irish stories. And that was Ronald Reagan.
KING: As Wolf has pointed out that liberals, Democrats have turned out en masse for this. Is this kind of a -- they're not saying we feel sorry, we disagree with you, but they are saying we liked you, right?
BLITZER: Everybody is saying that, everybody's saying they liked Ronald Reagan, they admired him, his optimism, his happiness, the sense that he was a politician. You could make a deal with him. All the Democrats recalling, yes they disagreed with him on various policies. But he was -- he was the president of the United States that they respected, that they admired, that they could work with and get the job done.
I wondered, while we're waiting, Larry for this motorcade to make its way to the presidential library, where you are, one quick question, I've always been interested in asking Mikhail Gorbachev, if I could.
BLITZER: ... and ask him this because I was there in the Soviet Union at the time.
It was August 1991, after the Gulf War, there was a coup d'etat against him, against Gorbachev in Moscow, it eventually turned out to be a failed coup d'etat but I've always been interested in wondering had that coup succeeded and he had been prevented from returning to office if he were arrested, would the Cold War still be in business today? Would the Soviet Union still be in business today? GORBACHEV (through translator): No. This coup could not succeed. It was a reckless adventure of those who were against reforms, of those who were against perestroika. When they saw their time was passing, despite all difficulties, perestroika was moving forward. They did what they do one day before the signing of a new union treaty that would have created a different union, a decentralized and democratic union. And I never hesitated when I was there, when I was isolated, and locked, and when I was declared a sick person, I had no doubt that the coup would be defeated. And it was defeated.
KING: Gary Foster, what was he like to work for?
FOSTER: Couldn't have had a better boss. you know, especially for what I was doing, which was putting him out in public events to where he could do what he did best, and that's communicate to people. He was a natural at it. We gave him settings but he took it and ran with the ball. And behind the stage is the same man you saw in front. He was as much of a gentleman, and polite, and humble, as I said before, as he appeared to be on the stage.
KING: We're talking with Gary Foster, close friend of the Reagan family, former White House staffer and one of the key organizers of this event today, which will wind up soon here at the Reagan Library for the ceremonies and the laying to rest of the 40th president. Also with us is the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Senator Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader, Ed Meese, the former attorney general, and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. One of his closest political friends, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, paid respect to her good friend at today's National Cathedral service. And although Lady Thatcher was in attendance, in fact, she flew on the plane with Nancy Reagan and is coming here tonight, her message was prerecorded because of her own health problems. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET THATCHER, FMR. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: As prime minister, I worked closely with Ronald Reagan for eight of the most important years of all our lives. We talked regularly, both before and after his presidency. And I've had time and cause to reflect on what made him a great president. Ronald Reagan knew his own mind. He had firm principles, and I believe, right ones. He expounded them clearly. He acted upon them decisively. When the world threw problems at the White House, he was not baffled or disoriented, or overwhelmed. He knew almost instinctively what to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Dole, how do you explain Thatcher/Reagan?
DOLE: Well, it was a great friendship. Again they trusted each other. They were friends. They had the same philosophy. They stuck to their guns. She didn't wobble. Don't get wobbly, I remember she saying one time to President Bush 41. And he didn't, of course. But, I think it's just that, you know, both conservative, but some flexibility, willing to compromise. Civility. I mean all these things that we've talked about.
KING: Ed Meese, did he and Margaret Thatcher genuinely also in addition to agreeing, like each other?
MEESE: Yes, they certainly did. They had a lot of -- they liked to joke together, they spent a lot of time together at these industrial summits when they attended, as well as on other visits. You remember Margaret Thatcher was the -- had the first luncheon from a foreign head of government, after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated because they had already met, they had already talked, and he was very fond of her and what she had done in England, but then also, from that point on, their friendship developed.
One of the things that was very important was they reinforced each other. Because almost all the heads of state that attended those industrial summits at the start of their respective terms were socialists. And so, they really carried the banner, and interestingly enough when Ronald Reagan left office, almost all of the heads of state of the seven industrialized nations were center right or free enterprise oriented.
KING: Gary Foster, we're being told now that this motorcade is about 15 minutes away. Is that what you read? You know the area.
FOSTER: Yes, in fact I just got -- I'm sitting here with my Blackberry in my lap and just got a message from somebody in the motorcade who's actually worked for Ronald Reagan since 1979 when he was running for president and has been virtually at every rally and parade route that he ever took and he said he has never seen anything like this before.
FOSTER: Yes. He -- well, it was a very short message, but he said it was literally hundreds of thousands of people. And he's never seen such a sustained crowd for so long. Even during his presidency.
KING: Wolf, what do you make of this?
BLITZER: Well, it's an amazing development. It's an underscore -- it underscores how special Ronald Reagan was to so many Americans. And it's not just Americans who remember him necessarily personally, because we've seen a lot of young people out there, as well, Larry. You know, you asked earlier why people do this. Why they just go out on the street and want to get a glimpse of this hearse, of this motorcade, of these limousines that are moving forward. I think that they sense that this is history unfolding right now and it's one opportunity that they have. They'll be able to share it with their children and their grandchildren.
I remember when I was a young kid growing up in Buffalo, New York, Larry, I don't know if you went through an experience like this, but I remember once in the town of Tonawanda, I had heard, with a bunch of my buddies when I was in junior high that Bobby Kennedy was running for the Senate in New York state and was going to be at some event. And we just decided we're going to stop playing baseball, we're going to go over there and get a glimpse. I didn't even know who Bobby Kennedy was but I knew that he was the brother of President Kennedy and I just wanted to see it. And you know what? All these years later, Larry, I still remember very vividly that glimpse of Bobby Kennedy when he was running for the Senate in New York state.
KING: Yes. Also, Gary, you would attest to this, how much president Reagan loved sweets. Not just jelly beans. Because I had lunch with him once and he had a hot fudge sundae for dessert, and he scraped the bowl.
FOSTER: Well, it was funny...
KING: He loved hot fudge sundaes.
FOSTER: The only advantage of him traveling to events without Mrs. Reagan, because you knew he would much rather have her by his side at all times, was he got to eat the dessert. When he went on the road. She helped him watch his weight, and eat a healthy diet and very seldom had dessert when she was around. When he was on the road without her, that was his biggest treat, was being able to eat his dessert.
KING: It can be safe to say that Nancy eats like a bird.
FOSTER: Yes. Does not have much of an appetite.
KING: As we await this motorcade's arrival, again running late. Running late because of unexpected crowds of people lining streets, causing the motorcade to slow down. They were due here to start this ceremony 17 minutes ago. Now they tell us they're about 10 to 12 minutes away. Let's show you some highlights of today's services at the National Cathedral.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THATCHER: Let us give thanks today, for a life that achieved so much for all of God's children.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As his vice president for eight years I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness, we all did. I also learned courage.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the end, through his belief in our country and his love for our country, he became an enduring symbol of our country. May God bless Ronald Reagan and the country he loved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Dole, how did President Bush equip himself today, do you think?
DOLE: Oh, I think he did very well. And you talk about parallels. A lot of President Bush/Ronald Reagan parallels, too, about the economy, about cutting taxes, about staying on message, about, you know, about sticking with your message. But I think it was a tone. It was just the right tone. Talking about President Reagan, not about himself, not about anything that might upset anybody in the political area. It was all about President Reagan. I thought it was just, just right.
KING: Ed Meese, mentioning Tip O'Neill as they did and Ronald Reagan in that unusual friendship of laughs and jokes, that doesn't seem to exist today, correct?
MEESE: I think that there's much less civility today, much -- positions have hardened, and I think that friendly spirit between two sides coming together after 6:00 is pretty hard to find.
DOLE: It's tough. It's tough out there. I remember...
KING: What went wrong, Senator Dole?
DOLE: I remember once President Reagan was kidding, he said why should I remember all their names? Only about half of them vote for me anyway. You know, we were down there talking about who voted this way and that way.
But well, I don't know, I think there's -- this may help us a little bit. I think the American people are going to view this for almost five days, and they may be asking their member of Congress, regardless of party, you know, why can't we have a little more civility? Why can't we get together? Why can't we if necessary compromise?
President Reagan said give me 80 percent and I'll get the 20 percent next year. And I think that's the spirit that's going to be around for a long -- this is going to last awhile. This isn't going to disappear tomorrow morning. My view is it's going to last for some time.
KING: What do you think, Wolf? When did it change? When did we become less civil?
BLITZER: You know, we all thought after 9/11 that we would be back at that, that level of civility in the political discourse of our country, that we would never again have the kind of bitter partisanship that had been so frequent in, let's say, during the Clinton years, for example, when things got ugly on many, many occasions.
But we've recently seen, and I think Senator Dole will agree, a return to that kind of bitterness, that political acrimony. The kind of spirit that he doesn't like. The kind of spirit he's hoping will disappear, at least, in the short term.
Unfortunately, I'm not as upbeat as Senator Dole, because I sense in the coming days, especially after the sunset service tonight politics are going to come back pretty, pretty quickly. All the bitterness is going to roar right back as we get closer to the conventions and the November 2 election. It's just going to be a heated political campaign over the next few weeks and months. And I'm not sure that the Ronald Reagan national period of mourning is necessarily going to spill over and create a new era of goodwill, if will you will.
DOLE: It would be an opportunity...
KING: Senator Dole, what do you think of that? And then Ed Meese? Senator Dole?
DOLE: I think probably, you know, Wolf is the expert. But I think you're going to see some of this again at the Republican Convention. Obviously, Ronald Reagan is going to be a centerpiece in what happens at the Republican Convention -- that's going to be a message, again, to all the American people, not just Republicans. So my view is that there's going to be -- it's going to last. I think, you know, to be a little bit political, it's a plus for President Bush.
MEESE: Well, I've been concerned particularly, I don't know that we've ever had as much division between the parties while the nation has been at war. And we are at war right now. And I've been particularly disturbed by the attacks on the commander-in-chief, particularly from some of those who don't only disagree with his policies, but have made the attacks personal. And I think that kind of bitterness doesn't belong in a country like ours.
KING: But what caused it?
MEESE: I don't know. Maybe it's the -- maybe it has something to do with leadership. Maybe it has something to do with just the way in which the parties have perhaps gotten more hardened in their positions, and perhaps more polarized.
DOLE: It's a very close division in Congress, too, and that always leads to more confrontation. When it's 51-49 in the Senate that makes it very difficult for either leader to have much of an impact.
MEESE: That's true. And, of course...
KING: Gary Foster, tell us -- I'm sorry, go ahead.
MEESE: I was just going to say, I would -- I think that what Senator Dole has said is true. The closeness, and the division that is pretty close between the country as a whole, as revealed in polls and that sort of thing, probably is a contributing factor.
KING: Gary Foster, what are we seeing now? Now this is on the stage, right?
FOSTER: This is. You saw some honor guard getting in place, so it's obvious that the motorcade is getting very close. But because this is a state funeral, the armed services are extremely involved in this entire proceedings over the last six days.
So we have military bands, we have honor guards. The guys moving the caskets are from all armed services. So you're going to see quite a bit of pomp and ceremony here. It's all in place or getting in place as we watch.
KING: And we have the U.S. Air Force band and the U.S. Army Chorus, right?
FOSTER: That's correct. You're going to see a couple F-18s flying over at the end of the service. So it's, it's well represented by our armed services.
KING: Senator Dole, you want to say something?
DOLE: Well, I think just what Gary said, we ought to also reflect upon the young men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan this week. We've lost soldiers this week. But I think when you see all these young men and women who participated in this whole five days in all these ceremonies it makes you proud, proud of the young men, proud of the young women. And I know if President Reagan were around, he'd be saluting left and right.
FOSTER: Also you're watching the California Highway Patrol motorcycles going by the motorcade. We were asked if it was possible if a lot of the guys who did that while he was president and governor were able to come up and have a special time before he left Simi Valley to go back to Washington to pay their respects. And we ended up having several thousand armed -- excuse me law enforcement officials from the LAPD, California Highway Patrol, multiple groups come up here at the very end of the laying in repose here at the library on Monday. And it was quite emotional for those guys to all file by, salute in their uniforms.
KING: President Gorbachev, as a visitor to this country, what did you think of the service this morning?
GORBACHEV, (through translator): I had the feeling that was very emotional. When this farewell to the president was happening, the service was done with tremendous respect, was extremely well organized, was really very impressive. And perhaps all television channels showed moments of President Reagan's life, and his -- talked about his final years. And I think that that gave a lot of food for thought.
I am now taking part in this conversation with you, and you have been discussing a number of themes and subjects, because those are kind of lessons. And these are the lessons that you are drawing from today and from yesterday.
The American nation, I think has shown, despite all differences that exist in a free society and a Democratic country, has shown itself quite unanimous in expressing the feeling of gratitude. And you may be right that this is precisely because people are comparing the politics of today, and the politics of that time, particularly during the second term of his presidency. KING: Gary Foster, what can you tell us? Where are we now?
FOSTER: Well, we're hearing the helicopter that's just above the motorcade. So he's just a matter of minutes away.
KING: Now give us -- how they come in here.
FOSTER: They're going to come up Presidential Drive.
KING: It's a winding road.
FOSTER: Which is a winding road.
KING: With pictures of presidents along the way.
FOSTER: Yes, with all 42 presidents.
KING: The helicopter is right above us.
FOSTER: And will arrive at the front of the library.
Mrs. Reagan will get out of her limousine. Once she's in place, the casket will be removed from the hearse. It will be transported through the courtyard of the library, through the library itself, and out into the backyard for the ceremony.
KING: Following the ceremony, the burial, will they place -- will that take part of it, too, the placing of the body in the ground?
FOSTER: Yes, once the ceremony is over, the casket will proceed over to the place of burial. Mrs. Reagan will follow, be put in place. She will be allowed a few moments to say her final good-bye. Revering Wenning, who is their pastor will say the it -- the invocation, taps, the 21 gun salute, and the folding of the flag, and present it to Mrs. Reagan.
It's going to be quite emotional. The casket actually is going to be preceded by a bagpipe that will be playing "Amazing Grace" that I think will be very, very emotional.
KING: At some services they'll throw pebbles on the casket or some sort of reminder of people's association.
FOSTER: People, all the guests here, all 700 guests, once Mrs. Reagan leaves will be able to file by so I'm sure we will see everybody paying respects in their own way.
KING: Now, we have pulling in right behind us about five or six California Highway Patrolmen on motorcycles. We hear a helicopter directly above our heads. What you're seeing, of course, and we are where now? We are looking out, is that Simi Valley?
FOSTER: This is Simi Valley and we're on one of the mountaintops overlooking the valley. It's just, as you were talking earlier, it's a spectacular site that this library sits on top of.
KING: The library is right sort of there behind us, right?
FOSTER: That's correct. That's correct, right over our shoulder.
KING: This is some scene, Senator Dole. I wish you were here. This is an incredible setting. Have you been to this library?
DOLE: I've been there. I had the great honor to speak there on one occasion and it is a beautiful site. Stanford University made a big mistake when they, you know, they're the losers and they deserve to lose because all those liberal professors didn't want anything to do with President Reagan.
KING: What is that story? I don't know.
DOLE: Well, I think maybe Ed Meese could fill you in but I think that's the original plan. I may be wrong.
MEESE: No. Larry, originally the thought was that the presidential library would be up on Stanford University in Northern California where it would be close to the Hoover Institution where a number of people had worked for the Reagan administration and there was some objections on the campus there unfortunately from some of the more liberal people.
Ronald Reagan said, well if there's going to be any controversy we'll have to find someplace else and, of course, they found it, what is probably in the long run a much better spot down where it is now in Simi Valley. It's a beautiful place.
I was honored to be one of the trustees, founding trustees that built the library initially and it's just a marvelous site and I think in the long run it worked out for the best, which is kind of typical of Ronald Reagan I think in what's happened in his life.
KING: I had the honor of speaking here once and I noticed that Senator Howard Baker is coming to speak in August and Justice O'Connor will be speaking here in September. That's a regular thing right here (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
FOSTER: Yes, yes. They have outstanding speakers on a regular basis that come up as part of the library program.
KING: It's a beautiful library and a great part of it also if you're visiting out here and they're expecting tons of visitors, as you see the motorcade coming sort of up the hill.
There's a great tribute to his days as an actor, lots of posters and pictures and sights and sounds around Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. Have you been here, Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, I've been there, Larry, and it is a fabulous place to visit, to experience history. Anyone who wants to learn something about Ronald Reagan will appreciate what's going on.
The other day when I was in Normandy, France covering the D-Day anniversary, Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian was there. He was just there not that long ago, a few weeks ago, and he had some access to some of Ronald Reagan's diaries.
And he told us a story, Larry, and I'm sure Gary might want to weigh in on this that when Ronald Reagan was president, every single day, virtually every single day he was so disciplined he would hand write, he would write with his own words some thoughts of what happened that day, some reflections.
He didn't dictate them to a secretary or to a machine. He would just simply write in his diary and those diaries are going to be a made available to historians in the not too distant future.
And I think another side of Ronald Reagan, yet another dimension will come forward. I don't know if Gary wants to talk about that or if he's had access to those diaries but it's going to be a fascinating new treasure trove for historians and biographers.
FOSTER: Well, Wolf is right. As Attorney General Meese can witness this, there was -- Ronald Reagan wrote most of his speeches longhand before he was elected president and so he's a fabulous writer and he was encouraged and challenged to actually chronicle, you know, every day, as Wolf said, his presidency and so we will have access to those at some point, which I'm sure will be -- every historian will be fascinated by.
KING: Ed, did you ever read any of it?
MEESE: I have never read any but he told me about some of the entries that he's made over the years and I think it's correct he was a very disciplined person. It's another aspect to his discipline, which is why he was so healthy and that is that he also worked out every night. Those were the two things he did, do his exercises, treadmill and weight lifting and also write in his daily journal.
KING: Now the motorcade is coming up the hill, coming right to the library. We've had quite a number of motorcycle cops pull into the area where we are already. What's the purpose of the helicopter, Gary?
FOSTER: Well, it's a combination of security but we also had a helicopter up there with a camera on it, so the world will continue to be able to see the coverage but there's always a security helicopter above every motorcade movement.
KING: Where are we right now?
BLITZER: Can I ask, Larry can I ask Gary a question why the family didn't want that helicopter shot on the motorcade that brought the casket and Mrs. Reagan from the presidential library the other day to the Point Mugu Naval Air Station yet on the return they've invited the media to show this motorcade virtually going the whole way?
FOSTER: It was not the family's decision. Unfortunately in this era in which we live in there is probably no fewer than a dozen agencies that had to approve it and unfortunately we did not get all those agencies to approve it and, in fact, the Secret Service agent that's in charge of this entire event just, he was on the phone this morning with homeland security to finally get the approval for the helicopter today.
But airspace and all security arrangements have been elevated just tremendously even since I was in the White House ten years ago because of the era in which we live in today.
KING: Where is the hearse now, Gary?
FOSTER: This is Presidential Drive, just literally a matter of a few hundred feet away from where we're sitting, so we should be seeing the hearse.
KING: Will it come right behind us here?
FOSTER: Yes, it will come right behind us.
KING: We're sort of around this bend here, right?
FOSTER: Yes, yes. This is part of the windy road up to the library.
KING: If you come to this library, if you're ever out in the Simi Valley area in California and it's about on an easy traffic day about an hour from Los Angeles.
FOSTER: From Los Angeles, that's correct.
KING: Straight up the 405, which is kind of a parking lot but sometimes it moves.
FOSTER: On a good day it's an hour.
KING: And these cars are now winding up. We expect them to come right by us momentarily and then, again, they will go to the front of the building?
KING: The casket will be removed.
KING: Carried through. The viewers will get to see them carry it through the main entrance.
FOSTER: Carried through the courtyard into the main entrance of the library through the library momentarily and into the back lawn, which is where we will see the sunset.
DOLE: Hey, Larry, is it getting a little -- the sun is still out there, right? I mean it's getting a little not quite as bright as it was earlier.
KING: Are we going to be playing it close, Gary, here on sunset? When is sunset?
FOSTER: No, actually because it's a little bit later I think it's even going to be that much more dramatic because the sun won't set until actually behind the mountains about 7:45, so once the service is about over we will see the sun disappear behind the mountains.
KING: In other words, if they start this in seven, eight minutes, this will be right at sunset.
FOSTER: Yes. This will be perfect timing actually.
KING: So what we're saying, Gary, is you deliberately slowed down the motorcade for sunset arrival?
FOSTER: This is exactly what we hoped to tell you the truth.
KING: Through the keen eyes of Senator Dole who observes weather well.
FOSTER: That's correct.
KING: There's a military man standing near us right here over to our left awaiting the arrival of the presidential motorcade. Do you have events like this in Russia, President Gorbachev?
GORBACHEV (through translator): Well I would say that the tradition is different, although of course there is a farewell and there is the viewing of the body and the coffin and there is music that accompanies the event and there are remarks and speeches made at the civil service.
KING: I want to interrupt you, Mr. President, just a moment. The hearse, this is the hearse is it not?
KING: Passing right by us, Gary. We are right next to it and there we see the flag-draped coffin and the cars behind us and as they pull around this turn they're going to be right at the entrance to the building, right?
FOSTER: That's correct. That's correct and you'll see it stop and Mrs. Reagan get out of her limo momentarily.
DOLE: Is the wind blowing out there a little?
KING: Not bad.
FOSTER: No. There's a nice breeze but it's not too bad.
BLITZER: Larry, once the service begins...
KING: Senator Dole I...
BLITZER: Excuse me, Larry, is it a one-hour service? Is that what we anticipate?
KING: Yes, right Gary?
FOSTER: Yes, it will take about one hour.
KING: The way I read it, it's exactly one hour, a one-hour service.
FOSTER: That's correct.
KING: I want to thank Senator Dole. I know he's going to be leaving us. We'll hang out here and watch this whole thing along with you and then have a wind-up and have our guests comment at the end of the service what they thought about it. But I know Senator Dole has to leave us. Thank you much, Bob.
DOLE: Thank you, Larry. It's a great honor to be on the program to honor President Reagan.
KING: Always great seeing you. Thank you, our honor to have you and thanks for staying so late, running almost 45 minutes late from the start of things. We actually took the air hosting this program almost an hour ago.
Now, Gary, where will you go?
FOSTER: Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to go take my seat at the service.
KING: I don't mind at all. Give my best to my wife.
FOSTER: I sure will. I'm sorry you're not going to be able to join us but I understand.
KING: Thank you but someone has to do this, Gary.
FOSTER: That's right.
KING: It might as well be me. Wolf Blitzer will be standing by. Ed Meese will be standing by. Mikhail Gorbachev will be standing by at the Hilton Hotel in Houston. We thank Bob Dole for being with us.
Candy Crowley is on the scene. We'll be checking in with her.
As you watch the family disembark and head toward the centerpiece of the library, the main entrance to the library let's see if we can pick up any sound. Let's just watch.
Behind that stage area there and, of course, Nancy will be laid to rest next to him when she joins him. The ceremony is almost 50 minutes late in starting. That was due to some planned lateness with the enormous crowds along the highway and streets along the way on the route from the naval air station to here and now there seems to be some slow up here. I don't know what this is. Ed Meese, do you have a guess as to what this might be? I guess isn't connected with us, Wolf? BLITZER: I think what they want is to give the family a chance, Larry, to freshen up inside before they emerge because they had that long drive in from the naval air station. They wanted to give Mrs. Reagan and everyone a chance to simply freshen up a little bit.
Now the family we see them walking out for this service about to begin, the immediate children of course of Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Michael Reagan himself right there with his wife as well.
BLITZER: I don't think there was anything more to it than simply that, Larry.
KING: I agree, Wolf, good thinking. Here comes the rest of the procession that are filing in. They'll take their seats in the front. There are a total of about 700 people here and, as we told you earlier, most all of them close friends of the president and/or the first lady. They now take their seats in the front.
This ceremony is moments away from beginning in this beautiful setting northwest of Los Angeles, Simi Valley, California. Folks are being seated. The program is about to start.
If they stay to the program we've been handed in front of us there will be ruffles and flourishes and the playing of "Hail to the Chief." There's a poem by Sir Walter Scott, music by James Sanderson, "Hail to the Chief" first associated with the United States chief executive in 1815 when it was played to honor George Washington at the end of the War of 1812. The first living president to be honored was Andrew Jackson in 1829.
There's Ron Reagan and Michael Reagan and their wives. You see Mrs. Thatcher directly behind Ron Reagan, the president's youngest son. Arnold Schwarzenegger, you see the top of Arnold's head and he is behind, well sort of in between Ron Reagan and Michael Reagan's wife. The rest of the party comes in.
The sun, as they tell us, an hour away from setting. This was planned as a sunset burial and the proceedings should start momentarily. Let's watch.
REV. MICHAEL WENNING: Please pray with me. Eternal and Almighty God, we began this day and it seemed the heavens were weeping as we paid our farewell to your servant Ronald Reagan. We eulogized him. We worshipped under the arches of that stately cathedral. We have come from sea to shining sea to this soil, which he loved so much, and where his body will remain.
Gracious Lord God, turn our tears of sorrow into the hope of resurrection. Comfort our hearts and especially the Reagan family and the nation for we celebrate his life and we do it through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
MICHAEL REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN'S SON: Good evening. I'm Mike Reagan. You knew my father as governor, as president. But I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad. A little bit about Cameron and Ashley's grandfather because not a whole lot is ever spoken about that side of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan adopted me into his family 1945. I was a chosen one. I was the lucky one. And all of his years, he never mentioned that I was adopted either behind my back or in front of me. I was his son, Michael Edward Reagan.
When his families grew to be two families, he didn't walk away from the one to go to the other. But he became a father to both. To Patti and then Ronnie, but always to Maureen, my sister, and myself. We looked forward to those Saturday mornings when he would pick us up, sitting on the curve on Beverly Glenn (ph) as his car would turn the corner from Sunset Boulevard and we would get in and ride to his ranch and play games and he would always make sure it ended up a tie.
We would swim and we would ride horses or we'd just watch him cut firewood. We would be in awe of our father. As years went by and I became older and found a woman I would marry, Colleen, 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," and I'm sure he told Nancy every day "I love you" as I tell Colleen.
He also sent letters to his grandchildren. He wasn't able to be the grandfather that many of you are able to be because of the job that he had. And so he would write letters. He sent one letter to Cameron, said, "Cameron, some guy got $10,000 for my signature. Maybe this letter will help you pay for your college education." He signed it, "Grandpa. P.S., your grandpa's is the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan." He just signed his sign. Those are the kinds of things my father did.
At the early onset of Alzheimer's Disease my father and I would tell each other we loved each other and we would give each other a hug. As the years went by and he could no longer verbalize my name, he recognized me as the man who hugged him. So when I would walk into the house, he would be there in his chair opening up his arms for that hug, hello, and the hug good-bye. It was a blessing truly brought on by God.
We had wonderful blessings of that nature. Wonderful, wonderful blessings that my father gave to me each and every day of my life. I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son. What a great honor. He gave me a lot of gifts as a child. Gave me a horse. Gave me a car. Gave me a lot of things. But there's a gift he gave me that I think is wonderful for every father to give every son. Last Saturday, when my father opened his eyes for the last time, and visualized Nancy and gave her such a wonderful, wonderful gift.
When he closed his eyes, that's when I realized the gift that he gave to me, the gift that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had, back in 1988 on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Point Mugu, told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior. I didn't know then what it all meant. But I certainly, certainly know now. I can't think of a better gift for a father to give a son. And I hope to honor my father by giving my son Cameron and my daughter Ashley that very same gift he gave to me. Knowing where he is this very moment, this very day, that he is in Heaven, and I can only promise my father this. Dad, when I go, I will go to Heaven, too. And you and I and my sister Maureen that went before us, we will dance with the heavenly host of angels before the presence of God. We will do it melanoma and Alzheimer's free. Thank you for letting me share my father, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
PATTI DAVIS, RONALD REAGAN'S DAUGHTER: Many years ago, my father decided to write down his reflections about death, specifically his own, and how he would want people to feel about it. He chose to write down the first verse of an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem "Crossing The Bar" and then he decided to add a couple lines of his own. I don't think Tennyson will mind. In fact, they've probably already discussed it by now.
Tennyson wrote, "sunset and evening star and one clear call for me. And may thereby no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea." My father added, "we have God's promise that I have gone on to a better world where there is no pain or sorrow. Bring comfort to those who may mourn my going."
My father never feared death, he never saw it as an ending. When I was a child, he took me out into a field at our ranch after one of the Malibu fires had swept through. I was very small on the field, looked huge and lifeless, but he bent down and showed me how tiny new green shoots were peeking up out of the ashes just weeks after the fire had come through. "You see," he said, "new life always comes out of death. It looks like nothing could ever grow in this field again, but things do."
He was the one who generously offered funeral services for my goldfish on the morning of its demise. We went out into the garden and we dug a tiny grave with a teaspoon and he took two twigs and lashed them together with twine and formed a cross as a marker for the grave. And then he gave a beautiful eulogy. He told me that my fish was swimming in the clear blue waters in heaven and he would never tire and he would never get hungry and he would never be in any danger and he could swim as far and wide as he wanted and he never had to stop, because the river went on forever. He was free.
When we went back inside and I looked at my remaining goldfish in their aquarium with their pink plastic castle and their colored rocks, I suggested that perhaps we should kill the others so they could also go to that clear blue river and be free. He then took more time out of his morning, I'm sure he actually did have other things to do that day, and patiently explained to me that in God's time, the other fish would go there, as well. In God's time, we would all be taken home. And even though it sometimes seemed a mystery, we were just asked to trust that God's time was right and wise.
I don't know why Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father -- sorry -- 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 may have in his lifetime come across a small book called "Peace of Mind" by Joshua Loth Lieberman. If he did, I think he would have been struck by these lines, "then for each one of us, the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, it's time to go home, night is coming. It is your bedtime child of Earth."
RON REAGAN JR., RONALD REAGAN'S SON: He is home now. He is free. 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.
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.
He used to say, a gentleman always does the kind thing. And he was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. A gentle man.
Big as he was, he never tried to make anyone feel small. Powerful as he became, he never took advantage of those who were weaker. Strength, he believed, was never more admirable than when it was applied with restraint. Shopkeeper, doorman, king or queen, it made no difference, dad treated everyone with the same unfailing courtesy. Acknowledging the innate dignity in us all.
The idea that all people are created equal was more than mere words on a page, it was how he lived his life. And he lived a good, long life. The kind of life good men lead. But I guess I'm just telling you things you already know.
Here's something you may not know, a little Ronald Reagan trivia for you, his entire life, dad had an inordinate fondness for ear lobes. Even as a boy, back in Dixon, Illinois hanging out on a street corner with his friends, they knew that if they were standing next to Dutch, sooner or later, he was going to reach over and grab ahold of their lobe, give it a workout there. Sitting on his lap watching TV as a kid, same story, he would have a hold of my ear lobe. I'm surprised I have any lobes left after all of that.
And you didn't have to be a kid to enjoy that sort of treatment. Serving in the Screen Actors Guild with his great friend William Holden, the actor, best man at his wedding, Bill got used to it. They would be there at the meetings, and Dad would have ahold of his ear lobe. There they'd be, some tense labor negotiation, two big Hollywood movie stars, hand in ear lobe.
He was, as you know, a famously optimistic man. Sometimes such optimism leads you to see the world as you wish it were as opposed to how it really is. At a certain point in his presidency, dad decided he was going to revive the thumbs up gesture. So he went all over the country, of course, giving everybody the thumbs up.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I found ourselves in the presidential limousine one day returning from some big event. My mother was there and dad was of course, thumbs upping the crowd along the way, and suddenly, looming in the window on his side of the car was this snarling face. This fellow was reviving an entirely different hand gesture. And hoisted an entirely different digit in our direction. Dad saw this and without missing a beat turned to us and said, you see? I think it's catching on.
Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.
Humble as he was, he never would have assumed a free pass to heaven. But in his heart of hearts, I suspect he felt he would be welcome there. And so he is home. He is free.
Those of us who knew him well will have no trouble imagining his paradise. Golden fields will spread beneath a blue dome of a western sky. Live oaks will shadow the rolling hillsides. And someplace, flowing from years long past, a river will wind towards the sea. Across those fields, he will ride a gray mare he calls Nancy D. They will sail over jumps he has built with his own hands. He will at the river carry him over the shining stones. He will rest in the shade of the trees.
Our cares are no longer his. We meet him now only in memory. But we will join him soon enough. All of us. When we are home, when we are free.
WENNING: Mrs. Reagan, members of the Reagan family, distinguished and honored guests, it is a wonderful, awesome responsibility for me to be able to give these final parting words on this long journey of this week of sadness.
I want to thank you for the privilege of being your pastor and chaplain to the president. Little did I think that four and a half decades ago, when Frieda and I came to this country to study in college, that one day I would end up as the chaplain to the president of the United States, only in America.
Dear Nancy, thank you for bearing your grief so nobly. Thank you for the dignity that you have shown this week. Our hearts have gone out to you. So many people have commented on the picture where you and I are together as we began this week. And I think the reason for its poignancy was that the whole American nation was putting its arm around you. And so we love you and care for you.
Thank you for caring for the president in his declining years. Thank you for the wonderful example of your marriage that you modeled throughout your life together and especially in the White House years. Yours was truly a glorious friendship, based on mutual love and respect. And we love you for it. And thank you for it. To you, Michael, and Patti, and Ron, thank you for those very, very touching and moving words, a little humor, but the heartfelt love of children who loved their father and respect him so much.
We gathered at the beginning of this long day in the National Cathedral and heard so many wonderful words from the nation's leaders and also from a beloved friend. I have never heard lady Margaret Thatcher speak more eloquently in all her life. The last time when I heard her speak, I had the privilege of being present as she was awarded the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.
And I remember her saying particularly, when Ronnie spoke about the Soviet Union as the evil empire, even I blanched. Thank God that neither she, nor your husband, shirked in the face of communism, but saw its demise.
He touched us all. When I went back to the land where I was born in South Africa, I went to see my aging father. And, as I sat in his study, he pointed to a huge picture behind me framed. It was of your husband. And he said, this is my president; 10,000 miles away, he identified, as we all do and shall do through time to come.
It now remains for me to talk about the man and his faith. Indeed, he was a gift from God to us all. He made us feel good and confident about ourselves, about our country, and about our future. And I believe it's because he gained his confidence from the psalm which I read at the beginning of this week, Psalm 46, where the psalm says, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in the time of trouble.
When you attended church, so many people noticed that he could sing the hymns without looking at the hymnal. He loved hymns. And it was appropriate that it was sung in the cathedral this morning and played on the bagpipes this evening. That hymn speaks about God's amazing grace. And Ronald Reagan knew of the grace of his lord, Jesus Christ, for he lived with and on and in that grace.
I think of that one particular stanza of that hymn which says, through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home. Grace has led him home this day. He was a man who exhibited graciousness with all that he met, from the highest in the land to the lowliest.
On one occasion, when Alzheimer's was beginning to rob that beautiful mind and he no longer came to Bel Air Presbyterian Church, you know that I came to the office regularly and brought the church to him and then to your home. And, on one occasion, his secretary said, Mr. President, your pastor is here. Come and sit in the corner of his office.
And he said, no, I think I'll just sit here at the desk. I looked at her. She looked at me. We knew he wasn't going to budge. So I sidled up and sat on the edge of the desk. And I said, Mr. President, you're still boss. I'll sit where you are. And so I read scripture and prayed. Shortly afterwards, his secretary ushered in my wife and he stood up immediately and went over to her and shook her hand. You see, the gentleness, the kindness, the love, the gifts, the fruit of the holy spirit was deeply embedded in his DNA. As Ron has already said, in 1994, he wrote that letter saying, "I now begin my journey into the sunset of my life."
But I believe that, last Saturday, he began a new journey into the glorious presence of almighty God, and he is basking in the sunshine of his love. And I believe he's touching the face of God, as he said during the Challenger disaster. And the lord is saying to him, well done, my good and faithful servant.
Let me close with just one thought. In the ancient nation of Israel, when the temple had been built, the lord appeared to King Solomon and said to him these words: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways and pray and seek my face, I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land."
God was reminding his ancient people that the glory of the nation was not in power or prestige, in wealth or in might. Ronald Reagan knew that as a cardinal truth, that, ultimately, our strength is not in our might, but it is as we depend upon almighty God and trust in him and walk humbly before God. Ronald Reagan lived and believed that. And thank God that he did.
Mr. President, I salute you.
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire! Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
Gun two, stand by! Fire!
Gun three, stand by! Fire!
Gun four, stand by! Fire!
Gun one, stand by! Fire!
WENNING: Please pray with me.
God, we commend into your hands the spirit of your servant, Ronald Wilson Reagan. We commend him into your care and keeping. And as we do so, we commit ourselves afresh into your love and care.
Teach us to so live that we shall never, ever be afraid of death, nor ever ashamed to see you face to face, but grant that your love and peace may rest with us now and always. The lord bless you and keep you. The lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious upon you, the lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and grant his peace now and forever more, in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, aim, fire!
Ready, aim, fire!!
Ready, aim, fire!
KING: A beautiful sunset in Southern California.
The president's wish to be buried at sunset at the site of his library overlooking the valley he loved, Simi Valley, California. And this service comes to an end. So will our portion of the program, but I want to get some comments from some of the guests.
Ed Meese, what did you think of what you just saw?
MEESE: I thought it was a marvelous ending to a very spectacular tribute to the president.
And having his children there give those heartfelt remarks, as well as having the entire ceremony there with the sunset and all was the proper close for what he would have liked and what is really appropriate in the ending this chapter in our history of our country. I also think that the military presence throughout the events of the week would have been -- is very important to Ronald Reagan. He was a military man himself, as you know, having been an officer during World War II. And that, combined with all the other aspects of this tribute, I think is a very fitting memorial to him.
KING: Beautifully said.
President Gorbachev, what is your reflection on this evening?
GORBACHEV (through translator): In 1992, I visited with Ronald Reagan and Nancy at the Reagan Library. I spoke there, gave a talk there. And I also had a tour of the library. And, at the end of that tour, Ronald Reagan said, Mikhail, I want to show you the place where we will be buried. But then he said, I'm in no hurry.
KING: And, Wolf Blitzer, what are your thoughts on what you saw here tonight?
BLITZER: Well, you know, my thoughts are with Nancy Reagan right now, Larry.
She had been so stoic, so brave, so composed throughout this week. Only at the very end, when they took that American flag off the coffin and she went up there, did we see her really break down, understandably so. This is the last time she's going to even be that close to her husband, Ronnie, who -- she called him Ronnie. She loved him so very much.
And I was touched by the fact that her children came up behind her as soon as they saw her begin to lose it a little bit. This is a powerful woman. Larry, as you point out, she may be frail, but she's very, very strong.
KING: Ed Meese, were you surprised that she finally did break down?
MEESE: No, not really.
She's been a strong person. As Wolf said, she is a strong person. But this emotional moment, I think her reaction was what we might expect, and we can sympathize with her.
KING: Wolf, I guess, if I might tie in together, you couldn't have Hollywood-scripted this better.
BLITZER: This was about as perfect a scene, Larry, as you can imagine. What a fitting ending to Ronald Reagan, 93 years old, the 40th president of the United States, literally fading into the sunset of the Pacific right now. What a spectacular moment.
KING: Ed Meese, I know you know this scene very well, spent a lot of time in California. I don't want to sound like a -- overly done loving California, but can't beat the sunsets.
MEESE: No, you certainly can't. And Ronald Reagan loved those sunsets, whether they were at the ranch, or whether they were here at the library. And I agree with Wolf, this is a most fitting way to end the day, and to memorialize the life of one of our greatest presidents.
KING: There you see the sun fading in the distance, at about one minute before 8:00, Pacific Coast time. This long day started back in Washington D.C. many hours ago with that incredible service at the National Cathedral, and ends tonight here at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
As all of the 700 guests get to go by, and give their last goodbyes to the 40th president of the United States. One of those of course, the former prime minister of Great Britain, Lady Margaret Thatcher.
The sun is now a memory. Cars are beginning to leave behind us. The motorcade with Nancy Reagan now leaves. Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver pay their last respects. Nancy heads back home to the Reagan home in Bel Air, California, about a one-hour drive. And this service comes to its conclusion.
Well, we've been here for the last three hours covering this. And we now turn it over to Aaron Brown who is in Washington D.C., to give us a special edition of NEWSNIGHT. Aaron, this was -- I don't know if you got to watch much of this, but this was quite an evening.
AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN": Well, Larry, we saw it all. Thank you.
We awoke today in a grizzly, drizzly day in Washington, which felt oddly perfect for what was in store. And the night ended in a glorious sunset across the Pacific, and that too seemed exactly right.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com