- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2004

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — In a final, majestic hail to the chief, the nation bade a lingering goodbye to Ronald Reagan yesterday at a hilltop burial ceremony in his beloved California beneath a setting sun.

In poignant eulogies at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the nation’s 40th president was remembered by his surviving children as a father, grandfather and husband who was finally free from the grip of Alzheimer’s disease.

“He is home now. He is free,” said his son, Ron Reagan. “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.”

After the service, a tearful Nancy Reagan kissed and stroked her husband’s coffin while clutching an American flag — seemingly reluctant to leave his side. “I love you,” she said quietly. The former first lady was surrounded by her weeping children, who tried to console her just before the sun disappeared from the gold-tinged hills in the distance.

Daughter, Patti Davis, recounted Mr. Reagan’s last moments in her eulogy at the burial service. “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,” she said.

After the California service, the casket was carried to the burial site, where final prayers were offered, an artillery battery and riflemen fired salutes, and a bugler played “Taps.” Four Navy fighter jets soared overhead, one peeling up and away in the traditional “Missing Man” formation.

As Nancy Reagan cried, the flag that draped the casket was removed, folded and presented to her by Navy Capt. James A. Symonds, commander of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, over which the flag had flown at the time of the former president’s death.

American guns around the world fired in Mr. Reagan’s honor — 21-gun salutes at the stroke of noon local time at U.S. military bases, at dusk, another worldwide round of 50-gun salutes.

Among the exhibits at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library are thousands of official gifts given to Mr. Reagan, as well as a nuclear missile deactivated when Mr. Reagan and then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Behind the main library building, where Mr. Reagan’s casket was displayed for 106,000 members of the public to pay their respects Monday and Tuesday, is a low concrete wall bearing the presidential seal and an inscription.

The wall, which runs next to a landscaped rose garden, marks the back of the mausoleum in which Mr. Reagan, and later his widow, Nancy, will be entombed.

“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is a reason to each and every life,” reads the inscription chosen by Mr. Reagan.

Several dignitaries and celebrities attended the burial ceremony in California, including actors Tom Selleck and Bo Derek, and former hockey star Wayne Gretzky.

In addition to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, other political figures saying a final farewell were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his wife, Kennedy heiress Maria Shriver, Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz and several former state governors.

Flags flew at half staff across the Golden State after Mr. Schwarzenegger declared yesterday a day of mourning for his fellow actor-turned-politician. Church bells tolled across Los Angeles as the state funeral in Washington’s National Cathedral ended.

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