Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Reagan laid to rest in Califonia

FADE TO BLACK The death of the 40th president stirred emotions in a nation nostalgic for his warmth, charm and optimism

REUTERS , Simi Valley, California

As the sun sets Nancy Reagan leans on the the mahogany casket of her husband, former United States president Ronald Reagan at the burial site at the end of the interment ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

Ronald Reagan was laid to rest in the rolling California hills that he loved on Friday in a sunset ceremony that ended a week of national mourning for the 40th president -- the last chapter of what President George W. Bush called "a great American story."

Hundreds of close friends and family paid a final farewell to Reagan, whose passing at age 93 stirred an outpouring of emotion from a nation nostalgic for his warmth, charm and optimism.

At the burial ceremony at the Reagan Presidential library, a lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace, US navy jets flew overhead in what is called a "Missing Man Formation" and an honor guard presented widow Nancy Reagan with the flag that had draped his coffin for his last journey home.

She dabbed her eyes, hugged the flag to her chest and then walked to the coffin, placed her cheek on the polished wood and began to weep as her children Ron and Patti comforted her.

The frail 82-year-old widow placed a single kiss on the coffin and reluctantly allowed herself to be led away so that the burial service could be concluded.

In contrast to the formal, state funeral service held earlier in the day in Washington, DC, where President Bush told an assembly of world leaders that "a great American story" had ended, Reagan's burial was a family affair attended by some 700 close friends, many of them people the late president had known since his days as a Hollywood actor.

In short but moving speeches, his three surviving children spoke lovingly of the man they knew as a father rather than a world leader and celebrated his humor and odd habits like pulling a stranger's earlobe.

"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," his youngest son Ronald Prescott Reagan said, briefly touching his father's flag draped coffin.

"History will record his worth as a leader. We here have long since measured his worth as a man," he added.

Michael Reagan, the son he adopted during his first marriage to actress Jane Wyman, told the crowd his father once gave him marital advice: "You'll never get in trouble if you tell her `I love you' once a day. I am sure that he told that to Nancy."

Daughter Patti Davis told how her father, when she was a young girl, gave such a touching burial service for a pet goldfish that she offered to kill all the other fish in the tank and he had to spend a lot of time dissuading her.

The ceremony concluded with the playing of "Taps" and a flyover by US navy jets.

Among those in attendance at the burial service were Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's political soul-mate, as well as ex-US Secretary of State George Shultz and such celebrities as Nancy Sinatra, Tom Selleck, Merv Griffin, Bo Derek and Larry King. Also there was another actor inspired to go into politics by Reagan's example -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Selleck, who worked with Nancy Reagan on her "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign, said the national wave of emotion of the past week "would mean a lot to him. ... I think he would be touched in his own self-effacing way."

CNN's Larry King, a personal friend although at odds with Reagan politically, said "He didn't hate. I think one of the reasons people are acting this way this week is they miss that."

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