- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Standing in line next to someone for four hours brings people together. They share sunscreen, exchange stories and, perhaps most important, save spots when someone has to dash off to the portable bathroom.

“We’ve swapped sandwiches, business cards, and we’ve even been invited to a wedding,” said Paul Defabo, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., one of the thousands of mourners who have waited in the lines outside the Capitol to pay their respects to former President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Defabo and his wife, Dolores, said they had met people from Texas, Utah and Virginia while standing in the line yesterday. “This man offered me a kidney for a soda, but I graciously turned him down,” Mr. Defabo said.

Standing nearby were Eric Hahn and Bill Strangwood, both of Cleveland — they had met in line.

“We’ve even taken pictures and we’re already planning a reunion,” said Mr. Strangwood, who drove from Ohio through the night to view the casket in the Capitol Rotunda. He said the people in line were helping each other. “We have to help each other out. We didn’t know what to bring. All I have is my contact case and saline solution.”

Elsewhere along the queue, there were spontaneous speeches, with onlookers cheering, clapping and shaking hands.

D.C. resident John Umana gave the crowd his thoughts on the reason so many people had turned out for the former president. “We are all here to pay our respects to an American icon, Ronald Reagan, and all he did for this country. … I’m so impressed with the people from everywhere. This is an outpouring of love and respect. This is America.”

Ellen Moschella, of Vienna, Va., and Anna Dorsey, of Springfield, were discussing family backgrounds when Mrs. Moschella, 59, told Mrs. Dorsey, “You have to come to my house for dinner.”

The two women then continued discussing their fondness for Mr. Reagan, eventually exchanging phone numbers.

As the line advanced, Mrs. Moschella grabbed Mrs. Dorsey by the hand and said, “Come on, you are my new friend and I don’t want to lose you.”

Lisa Botham, of Green River, Wyo., drove four hours to an airport with her daughter, Adar Westling, and then the two took a six-hour flight to the District to say good-bye to Mr. Reagan.

Miss Botham spent her time talking to four women, including Shinae Chun, of the District, who had joined the line during her lunch break.

“I’m shocked to meet so many great people,” Miss Botham said. “It’s been such a great experience; the four of us have developed a wonderful relationship. Just by being here we have realized how common we are.”

“I’m on my lunch break and I have done more in this line in two hours than I could have done in my office in eight hours,” Miss Chun said, commenting on the friendships she’s formed. “We live in a life and society with such a fast pace, it’s wonderful to see so many people take time to be out here for what is basic and important. It’s rejuvenating.”

Some in the line, however, wrestled with more sobering emotions.

Nelda and David Juarez of San Antonio pulled their granddaughter Kaitlin, 2, behind them in a toy wagon. Kaitlin’s father, a naval officer, was shipped to Iraq last weekend for his second deployment to the Middle East.

“It is very emotional,” said Mrs. Juarez, choosing her words carefully to avoid tears. “I just hope that everything works out and our son comes home safe. And hopefully when [Kaitlin is] old enough, we’ll be able to tell her we took her to see Reagan.”

There were two minor security incidents between 5 and 6 a.m., when Capitol Police moved people in line between Third Street and the Capitol Reflecting Pool away from the center of the line, citing a suspicious package on the edge of the pool.

“I hate terrorists,” said one man who was standing in line.

A bomb squad was sent to investigate the package, which was deemed harmless. The security alert did not approach the seriousness of the alert Wednesday, when a private aircraft veered into restricted air space and prompted a full evacuation of the Capitol and the queue outside.

The Rotunda was open overnight last night and Wednesday, and the atmosphere among most of those waiting in line was congenial.

But the pressure of waiting through the night wore on some, as one middle-aged man got into a shoving match with two young men he said had cut in line.

“We waited all night,” the man shouted, refusing to let the two men walk any further. Several onlookers told police that the men had, indeed, cut in, and the police removed the men from line, prompting cheers.

After walking out of the morning air and into a stairway leading to the Rotunda, all conversation ceased, and those in line tried to stall as long as possible in the Rotunda.

“Folks, we need to keep the line moving, please,” a large Capitol Police officer said softly.

Robert Patterson, 50, a Navy defense analyst from Stafford, Va., said, “I went there to pay my final respects and before I left I really felt a chill. The times, they are changing and I hope the Reagan years weren’t the pinnacle. When I was leaving, because I was shivering I didn’t know what to do. So before I left, I gave a final salute.”

Elizabeth Green, Frank Patrignani and Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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