updated 6/10/2004 10:47:21 AM ET 2004-06-10T14:47:21

Guests: Jack Valenti, Harvey Perritt, Dwight Pettiford

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  ... full field of opportunity here to give a major address about the importance of Reagan, President Reagan, Reaganomics, Reagan foreign policy, and its influence on current policy.  And I can‘t believe he will not do just that tonight.

JOHN PALMER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s a lot of talk.  We‘ve heard a lot of talk in the last couple of days about the impact all of this week is going to have, and how much of it, in fact, it‘s going to have on the election.  Certainly Senator Kerry had to shut down his operation, although commercials, I noticed, are still running on the air.  But he has basically stopped his campaigning.

But the kind of platform that President Bush is going to have to have to, though, on Friday at the National Cathedral, delivering the eulogy, and again, as you said, the vice president tonight.

There is a bit of transference going on.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PALMER:  I mean, looking back, Ronald Reagan and he was the guy who really was in favor of a strong military.  He is the person that was in favor of cuts in our tax program.  And so there‘s a lot of pointing saying, look how well it worked for Reagan.  That‘s still in dispute on the economy.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PALMER:  But the same thing is being done now by George Bush.

MATTHEWS:  And not a single Democratic voice will be heard this week in the capital.  No one is allowed to speak who‘s a Democrat.  Bill Clinton, we hear through the buzz, may want to, would have liked to have played a role here, he was not invited.  Former president Jimmy Carter, who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980, he wasn‘t invited to participate, at least not as a speaker.

This is going to be an affair for the two Bush presidents, the first President Bush, the second one who‘s now in office, and, of course, for the vice president tonight.  This is going to be a major speech, I would bet, by Dick Cheney tonight at the U.S. Rotunda in the Capitol.

Let‘s go right back to Lester, Lester Holt.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Yes, Chris, and President Bush will be making his way later Thursday evening to pay his respects to President Reagan.  We‘re also told he will visit Mrs. Reagan at Blair House across the street from the White House.  Of course, the president at the G-8 summit this week.

And there you see the procession, the camera vehicle, interesting, it‘s always a fixture for a presidential motorcade, and a fixture in these final journeys for President Reagan as he makes his way to Constitution Avenue there.  Just got out of the camera shot there.  But in soon, they will reach the location where this procession will stop, and it will take the old-fashioned route.

The president‘s casket put upon one of the caissons that were actually originally built in 1918.  They were built to carry cannons, big 75-millimeter cannons, and they had ammunition, chess (ph), and spare wheels and tools.  So they stripped those down, replaced them with a flat deck in which the casket is rested.

And, of course, there will be six matched horses pulling the caissons and carrying that flag-draped casket.  On top of three of their horses there will be soldiers guiding the team.  And, of course, three of the horses will be empty, will be riderless.

And here the hearse has come to a halt in front of a crowd that seems to be just silent from this picture.  Let‘s take this in for a moment.

It‘s a little past 6:00 in the East, 3:00 Pacific.  This is Lester Holt along with Chris Matthews and John Palmer, with continuing coverage on MSNBC of the farewell to Ronald Wilson Reagan.

You‘re looking live, Constitution Avenue, 16th Street, across the Ellipse, in sight of the White House, where the hearse carrying President Reagan has just pulled to a stop, a caisson with—led by six horses has pulled alongside.  The honor guards taking their place.

In a moment, the president‘s casket will be lifted out of the hearse and placed on this caisson, originally built in 1918 to carry artillery.  But the only use they have had in the latter part of the past century and into this century is to carry presidents on their final journey up Constitution Avenue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  God bless you, Nancy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, right now, we got John Palmer joining us from NBC, who has some thoughts about what the whole ritual we‘re watching right now with regard to the caisson—John.

PALMER:  Again, we are at the junction of 16th and Constitution.  You can see off in the distance in the upper part of your picture the White House.  This is the transfer from the hearse to the caisson.  The use of the caisson and the riderless horse, which you‘re going to see just a few minutes, was certainly traditional elements of the funeral procession for military leaders and for former presidents, presidents, and other dignitaries so designated by the Congress.

There are six matched horses that will pull the artillery caisson which carries the flag-draped casket of the president.  And riding on three of the horses will be soldiers who will guide the caisson as it moves along.

One of the older traditions is that a full honor, in this full honors funeral is the riderless horse.  And again, we remember that so much from 1963, from John Kennedy‘s funeral, and the boots facing backwards, indicating that the person who is being so honored will never ride again.

There are the boots now.  These boots are old cavalry boots of the times, type that the president, we are told, liked to wear.  Often he wore boots in and around the White House, and certainly at his ranch out in California.  And they are boots that he wore on display at Simi Valley at the Ronald Reagan Library, very similar to these boots.

The former president often wore boots when he was out on vacation in August in Santa Barbara up at his ranch, as he was clearing brush and cutting wood and, of course, riding, as he often would in the afternoons with Mrs. Reagan.

We remember, I‘m sure, Blackjack Pershing (ph).  That was the horse that was taking part in the ceremony for President Kennedy in the procession, the funeral procession for President Kennedy and Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson.  It is a sight that‘s quite unforgettable and very much a part of this pageant.

In just a few minutes, we will hear the muffled drum and the riderless horse will then lead this procession as they move just a few blocks now to the Capitol.  The last couple of hours, we‘ve been hearing sirens as various dignitaries assemble at the Rotunda for the state funeral, which is going to be held, of course, in about an hour, little more than an hour‘s time from here—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, we have joining us right now Jack Valenti, who is the long-time top aide to former (UNINTELLIGIBLE), former president Lyndon Johnson, and who was so much of this ceremony back in 1973 -- Jack.

JACK VALENTI, FMR. LYNDON JOHNSON AIDE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The ceremony is, this is the first time since then we‘ve seen a state funeral here.

VALENTI:  That‘s right.  It was January 1973, so it‘s more than 30 years ago that Washington and the country have borne personal witness to the funeral of a president.  Ten years before that it was Kennedy.  And so many people living in America today have never seen a presidential funeral before.  And this is a, pretty much, a replica of the Kennedy funeral.

MATTHEWS:  Did Lyndon Johnson tell you how he wanted his to be carried out?  Did he play a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), big role in his own?

VALENTI:  He told me that he had made his plans, and Mrs. Johnson had them, and that he was essentially unchanged from the Kennedy funeral.  He wanted to be in the Rotunda at the Capitol, and then he wanted to be flown back to Austin, and then by hearse driven to his ranch on the Perdenales.  And there he‘s buried alongside that lovely stream in a small little sylvan grove, with some—with a space next to his tomb where Mrs. Johnson will lie when she dies.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s interesting, Jack, is, I know you‘re a big man of history, and you love history.  But isn‘t it interesting that in a very complicated era with so much technology the way you show honor is to reduce it to a horse and a wagon?

VALENTI:  Well, I think the things that are most impressive to people are the simple things, the ceremonial, the ritual, the tradition I think ring pretty good in people‘s mind.  And that‘s what we‘re going through now.  This is a tradition, this is a ritual that is seared into the nation‘s memory.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it funny that, you know, like in church, when people clap, it seems an odd place to clap, to applaud?  They‘re the people, I think they‘re really trying to buck up Nancy Reagan.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

VALENTI:  Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) applauding because you want to do something to show that you‘re emotionally involved.  You can‘t scream, you can‘t shout, so you clap to show that you care, and you want to be heard.  I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to this cadence.  This is something we‘ll remember.

HOLT:  The funeral procession making its way up Constitution. Avenue.

This is Lester Holt.

Let‘s go to Amy Robach (ph) right now, who is with the crowd.  Amy?

AMY ROBACH, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  A somber event.  It was amazing, despite the thousands of people who are lining the streets here on Constitution Avenue, you could literally hear a pin drop as that motorcade came up, as the procession stopped right here at 16th and Constitution.

And when the coffin was about to make, of course, that transfer onto that horse-drawn caisson, we all saw Nancy Reagan get out of her vehicle.  And as soon as the crowd saw that Nancy had stepped out of that vehicle to witness this historic event, there was, of course, a round of applause that erupted throughout the crowd.  There was cheering for Nancy Reagan.  She smiled and, of course, stood very proudly but silently, almost emotionless, as she watched that hearse make its way and actually remove the body of her husband, the late President Ronald Reagan, and place it onto that horse-drawn caisson, Lester.

HOLT:  Thank you, Amy.

And let‘s go to Natalie Allen right now, who is at a location along the procession route.  And Natalie, I believe at some point we‘ll actually see a flyover, a 21-ship flyover of F-15s.

NATALIE ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right, Lester.  That takes place at Fourth Street, which is just around the bend here.  We can start to hear the band now.  We can see the motorcycles coming down the street.

I‘m standing here with David.  Tell us, why was it important for you to be here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I felt it was important.  Reagan‘s the first president that I had much of a memory of.  I was about 9 years old when he took office, and almost graduated from high school when he left office.  So just had a lot of memories of the man.

ALLEN:  James, you‘re here with your son, Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s correct, here‘s Andrew here.  And we‘re here because we want to celebrate President Reagan‘s life and accomplishments, and also because I wanted Andrew to experience this moment in history.  I was very nearly his age in high school for the Kennedy procession, and I remember that horse 41 years later.  So I certainly wanted Andrew to be here for that.

ALLEN:  What‘s it like for you, Andrew?  You‘re 15 years old, witnessing something like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, it‘s kind of interesting, actually.  This is the first time I‘ve ever seen, like, a riderless horse (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Yes, and I just thought it would be interesting to come out here and see it all happen.

ALLEN:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Lester.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m about, I‘m about end, I‘m about ending, I‘m done.

HOLT:  Natalie Morales is at Seventh and Constitution.  Set the scene for us there, Natalie.

NATALIE MORALES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Lester, I don‘t know if you can see right now, or you probably can hear the rest of the Metro Police motorcycles going by right now, leading this motorcade.  And you see right now the Metro Police leading this route here as the procession makes its way down.

Now, this has been a very important day here for a lot of people, and certainly a day they‘ll remember in history.

But Amy and George Gray (ph) are joining us here from Boston, Massachusetts.  And Amy, you brought your girls here today, and I know that you‘ve home-schooled them.  How important do you think this is for them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) history happens all around us, and we have an opportunity to be part of history.  We can make a difference in everything we do.  For them to see this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

MORALES:  And I know we will certainly let you watch as it gets closer.  But I want to ask you your personal feelings about President Ronald Reagan on this day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I admired him for what he did in restoring strength to our country, and being a leader who really did what he said he was going to do (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the economy at the time, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  And strong leaders are needed throughout the world.

MORALES:  Thank you so much.

And right now you are seeing the band come through here, and it‘s certainly going to be a big part of the ceremony as it makes its way, the cortege makes its way up to the Capitol and the Rotunda.  Get a little bit of the flavor here.  You‘re seeing some of the various members of the military, the Navy here lining the route.

And Lester, it certainly is a sight to behold here.  I think everybody was just hushed right now, just quieted down to be able to listen and be a part of this, Lester.

HOLT:  Yes, it‘s certainly a farewell as well as a history lesson all rolled into one here.  As we‘ve noted so many times before, it‘s something not seen in this city of Washington for 31 years.  And it is full of pageantry and pomp and circumstance and dignity.  A fitting tribute to not only the man, but certainly the office of president of the United States.

On this day politics, differences set aside as we honor the man who occupied the White House for eight years.

And you see the various members of the services here who are taking part, military services, as well as the police, who are leading this slow procession.  And that cadence, as Chris mentioned, a cadence we will remember and remember this day.

The clouds that had gathered over the city earlier that perhaps were harbingers of storms seem to have lifted.  Not a cloud in the sky right now.

And speaking of the sky, not long from now we‘ll see a flyover, a 21-ship formation of F-15s, which will offer yet another salute to President Reagan.

There‘s a look from 16th and Constitution, where the president‘s body was placed onto that caisson.  The White House, home to the Reagans for eight years, and the flag at half-staff.

When the president reaches the Capitol, we‘re told the family will be entering through the west door.  Mrs. Reagan will be escorted by the vice president.

Let‘s go back to Natalie Allen with the crowd on Constitution.

ALLEN:  Thank you, Lester.

I am with John, and he‘s with his little boy, Campbell.  And you have two other children here as well, John.  Why was this important for you to bring your children to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was important for our whole family to be here, because my two other children that are here as well, one who‘s 6 and one who‘s 4, and all of my first political memories are actually about Reagan.  And so important that we bring our children here, and maybe they will be able to tell their grandchildren about being here for this funeral procession.

ALLEN:  What did you say to your older children about the purpose of this event today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, they picked it up from the radio a little bit, so they know that somebody very important and well loved passed away.  So they have that part of it down.  We‘ll tell them more about it probably later as they get older, but that much they have picked up from the reporting.

ALLEN:  Thank you, John.

As the band moves into this spot, Lester, I‘ll toss it back to you.

HOLT:  And Natalie Morales, this is a celebration of a life, and it is a public celebration, particularly this part.  Folks will line up, as we know, to pay their respects when his body will be at the Capitol.  But this is a moment that people can come out and be part of this.  So it‘s a people celebration.  And you are with some of those people right now, Natalie.

MORALES:  Right.  I‘m actually here with Russell Hank, and Russell Hank (ph) has been videotaping the service as it‘s been taking place.

And Russell, you were telling me that you as a boy were brought here as well for similar proceedings.  Tell me about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, when we were children, my parents were licensed sightseeing guides in Washington.  They always wanted us to see things that happened of an historic nature.  They brought us down here when Kennedy was assassinated, they brought us down when Hoover died and then later when Johnson died.  We went down to Norfolk, Virginia, when Macarthur was buried.

And the interesting thing about when the Kennedy cortege went by, my aunt was one of the secretaries in Jimmy Hoffa‘s office.  So after they went by, we went back to the Teamsters Union, and we—I remember vividly watching color television for the first time and seeing Lee Harvey Oswald shot when they broke away from the Kennedy casket, they brought it into the Rotunda.

MORALES:  So here you‘re seeing history again unfold before you.  What are your thoughts on this day, and personally about President Ronald Reagan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was a remarkable man.  Although, you don‘t—not everybody cared for his politics, more his style.  He drew this nation together.  He drew the world together.  As you‘ve seen today, there are people from all over this country.  He brought me around to being a conservative in my politics, and I‘m very happy for that now.

MORALES:  Russell Hank, thank you.  And, of course, we‘ll let you get back to watching and recording as well.

So Lester, a lot of people with very much the same emotion here along the route, just waiting to catch a glimpse as the procession makes its way.  The band is moving through right now, and we expect to see the horse-drawn caisson fairly soon, Lester.

HOLT:  And a lot of those folks, Natalie, you‘re with, I take it, didn‘t plan to be here, didn‘t plan to—this as part of their visits to Washington, I take it.

MORALES:  Right, Lester.  In fact, a lot of people already planned trips here as vacationers, travelers, this is the high tourist season.  So they planned to be here anyway.  But some people did drive here.  We had—we spoke to someone earlier who drove here all the way from Michigan and decided, you know, this was—he wanted to be here, because this was the first president that he could remember personally.

And a lot of people as well, Russell, who I just spoke with, coming from nearby Gaithersburg, Maryland, but still felt it important to be here, to leave work early to be here today to witness this moment in history.

MORALES:  Chris Matthews, if I may offer this personal note, my—probably my earliest memory was seeing this very scene as President Kennedy was brought down this very avenue, and that image of that caisson and a flag-draped coffin is probably the very first memory of a world event.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, you know, there was a USIA film called, it was done by George Stevens, Jr., it was called “Years of Lightning, Day of Drums.”  And it was a combination of this scene for Kennedy in his life as president.  It was the way that they caught the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the times between the action of his presidency and the slower beat of his funeral.

Jack Valenti, interesting thing when I was in the Peace Corps, I would show that film to the people in Africa because it was one of the free films they let us have.

VALENTI:   It was a great film.  I think it was made by Bruce Hershey (ph).

MATTHEWS:  Bruce Hershey was the guy who ran for Senate in California...

VALENTI:  I remember that.  I have some memories of that day because I was on the airplane, Air Force One, flying back from Dallas, the body of John Kennedy in the rear of the plane, flag-draped.

MATTHEWS:  I guess that trip today across the country was a bit more somber, less shock, more sadness, probably.

VALENTI:  Well, President Reagan is inhabiting this world for the last ten years but not of it in a netherland so this is something that has been expected.  It wasn‘t the shock that Kennedy‘s death caused.  Big difference.

MATTHEWS:  Interesting difference in the weather.  It captures the different mood as a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think much more languid occasion.  There was a briskness, a shock to this November day when Kennedy was killed.

VALENTI:  I think the country was in a state of total obstruction with tragedy.  It couldn‘t believe it.  It was a nightmare and that had a lot to do with the way people involved themselves in his funeral.

MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of surprises here, Lester.  A lot of people that may not be strong Republicans, to put it bluntly, who may not have voted for this man, have come to pay respects for the office.  Very dramatically, I must say.  You could have never—I think Nancy Reagan, watching her respond to the crowd in a strange way, in an understandable way, however, she understands what these people are saying.  They‘re saying they‘re here for him and for her as well.

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Yes, I think we‘ve learned a lot about Nancy Reagan, Chris, certainly in the 10 years since we had learned that President Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer‘s.  Perhaps people viewed her in a new and a different and a more sympathetic way.  We got a glimpse of Nancy Reagan‘s hand, actually, from the limousine as she was continuing to wave to the crowd.  And earlier, as she had stepped out of the limousine, there were voices calling out to her, but one voice rang very clear, a male voice who said, “We love you, Nancy.”

The Army‘s Old Guard is the oldest infantry division in the U.S. Army, dating back to the 1700‘s.  And they are making this happen.  And Harvey Perritt, as the former commander of the Army‘s Old Guard—he was commander during the services for LBJ back 31 years ago and he joins us on the telephone now.

Mr. Perritt, good afternoon to you.

HARVEY PERRITT, FORMER COMMANDER OF THE ARMY OLD GUARD:  Good afternoon.

HOLT:  What memories come flooding back in your mind as you watch this tradition, this protocol carried out?

PERRITT:  Well, it—I feel for the old guard commander who is, of course, leading this, but also, has been frantically trying to get ready for it.  The plan is detailed, but nevertheless, there‘s always a whole host of things that you have to get done quick.

HOLT:  I—you know I marvel—and we‘ve know of this—up to this point that every president has a plan for a funeral, but clearly no one knows when and where, and the ability to coordinate not only the Old Guard but all the military units and all the security.  What is that like?

PERRITT:  It‘s a very busy period of time, and, of course, part of it depends on how much the president has approved of his plan.  Some, like LBJ, had not personally approved all of the parts in his.  President Truman, who I also had a month and a half before, had approved every detail in his.  But the plans are exhaustive, and if a dying president hasn‘t approved his plan, then it gets blessed by his family.

HOLT:  I have to think there‘s a real espirit de corps among a group such as the Old Guard.

PERRITT:  The Old Guard soldiers can do anything that you ask them to do.  And sometimes they do things that you haven‘t even asked them this do, but they figure that they should do.

HOLT:  Who are these soldiers?

PERRITT:  They‘re regular Army soldiers.  They, for the most part, are volunteers to be in the Old Guard.  The Old Guard has some fairly strict physical requirements, because it is the ceremonial unit for the president, not only for burials, but also, greeting foreign dignitaries.  And it has to live up to the same sort of approach that the Grenadier Guards do for the queen.

HOLT: And you‘re seeing—we should note other members of the service as well who are participating members of the Air Force  there in the foreground and sailors here and members of the Air Force in this picture now as they make their way up the west part of the Capitol.

We‘re talking to Harvey Perritt who commanded the Army‘s Old Guard.  And it was on his watch that the funeral for Lyndon Johnson was held.  And I‘m temporarily drowned out here by the—part of the motorcade going past my location now.  The motorcycles that have led this procession to the Capitol.

Let‘s go back to Amy Robach—Amy.

AMY ROBACH, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Lester, we are here with the chief of the U.S. Park Police, Chief Dwight Pettiford.

This was quite an event we saw take place today.  What went in to the planning?

CHIEF DWIGHT PETTIFORD, U.S. PARK POLICE:  Well, a lot went into this planning.  We worked for months and months on this detail and it‘s been a successful detail.  Everything has come together at the right time, very interesting.

ROBACH:  The only thing we‘ve seen similar to this perhaps in recent years is an inauguration like President Bush on 2001.  This was before 9/11.  What concerns did you have to deal with now, that you didn‘t have to deal with before or any other time?

PETTIFORD:  Before 9/11 we didn‘t have the terrorism aspect always before us.  Now, that‘s part of a state-of-being for the law enforcement community.  One of the things we always will deal with is the crowd control.  And this was a great event.  As you can see, this is one of the few events in present time that we allowed the public to come directly up against the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) without any type of security check.  This is the first time in a long time we‘ve done an event this way.

ROBACH:  I saw you all do them, and you let them him.  And they seemed very excited about that.

PETTIFORD:  Yes, and everyone cooperated, and that‘s the key thing.  And—but we have officers in the crowd.  We take our usual precautions for that great event, a great part of history.

ROBACH:  And speaking to the cooperation, this was a collaborative effort among police agencies.

PETTIFORD:  Of course.  There were a number of agencies; United States Secret Service was the lead agency.  Now, it‘s going to the Capitol and the Capitol Police are doing that.  They‘re the lead agency on that part.

ROBACH:  We saw this unbelievable moment of history take place right here at 16th and Constitution.  What went through your mind as you witnessed history take place?

PETTIFORD:  Well, that‘s a great question.  Last week, we had the opening of the World War II memorial, another historic moment.  This week we are part of a procession for a great leader, one of the country‘s presidents that passed, a great communicator, part of a great generation.  So I‘m very fortunate to be part of those historical moments.

ROBACH:  When you have something this massive take place, there are always estimates as to how many people came out.  Did this exceed or is this what you thought—is this what you expected as far as crowd population here lining the streets of Constitution Avenue?

PETTIFORD:  This is exactly what I expected and all the law enforcement have said.  We anticipate this will be one the largest spectator events ever in Washington.

ROBACH:  And certainly the events aren‘t over.  This is a three-day process.  Tomorrow, there is quite an undertaking as people will line up.  We certainly saw the lines in California.  What type of plan do you have in place to deal with the crowds that will come, most notably, from 9:00 tonight until 7:00 a.m. Friday?

PETTIFORD:  There will be a constant law enforcement presence at the Capitol.  And part of it—most of it will be handled by the Capitol Police.  Chief Gainer has a very elaborate plan.  And so, we are looking forward to everybody coming.  But they should cooperate, only bring things that they need and there is a list of items that they cannot bring.

ROBACH:  Things have cooled down here tonight, thankfully, but it was a hot day and it‘s certainly going to be hot for the next couple of days.  Do you have plans in place because people will be standing in those long lines for hours under this intense heat?

PETTIFORD:  Yes, if you go down to the Capitol area, you will notice cooling tents and tons of water.  Bottled water will be there.  Please take the liberty to stay hydrated if you‘re coming and have to stand in the lines.  Take precautions.

ROBACH:  U.S. Park Police Chief Dwight Pettiford, thank you very much for your time today.  We appreciate it.

PETTIFORD:  Thank you very much. 

ROBACH:  Back to you, Lester.

HOLT:  Thank you.  Members of the service rendering salute as the caisson passes their position.

Natalie Allen along the route—Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Lester, yes, the bands have passed now, and as the casket of Ronald Reagan makes its way down Constitution Avenue, it just gets quieter and quieter here.  I‘m with Mike Trott (ph).

Mike, why was it important for you to come out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know today is one of those days when we‘re all Americans.  It doesn‘t matter if we‘re a Democrat or a Republican, if we‘re black or white or gay or straight.  We‘re all-American, and we‘re here to honor a great American.  We‘re here to honor the presidency itself.  President Reagan, you know, was our spokesperson for eight years around the world, and he needs to be respected and the office of the presidency needs to be respected.  So that‘s why I‘m here today.

ALLEN:  How does it feel to be standing here right on Constitution Avenue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know it‘s awe-inspiring.  I was listening to the news just yesterday and they said this hasn‘t happened since President LBJ 30 years ago.  And I‘m 24 years old so I wasn‘t even alive the last time this happened.  So I‘m honored in a way that I only live right now three blocks away and I‘m able to come see this, you know, live and in person myself.  It‘s an event of a lifetime.

ALLEN:  Mike, thank you very much.

And Lester, I want to remind people that we are at—almost at 4th Street.  I‘m standing on my toes to see—yes, you can see the casket coming in the distance.  When the casket reaches 4th Street, it will get much noisier.  An F-15 flyover will take place at that time.

Back to you.

HOLT:  And they can time these things precisely to the second.  It‘s something they practice in wartime and certainly, peace time as well.  A 21-ship flyover of F-15s out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will make that flyover.

As we await that, let‘s go to Natalie Morales right now, more perspective, more thoughts and memories from the crowd—Natalie.

NATALIE MORALES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right.  Lester, it was really interesting to see, when we saw the caisson, the horse-drawn caisson and the riderless horse go by here, everyone broke out into applause.  It was really a remarkable feeling to be a part of that and to witness this.

Edward Jerrold (ph) is here along with his family and his son, 16-year-old son, Christian.  And this—what was this moment like for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It reminds me of when I was very young and watching the Kennedy funeral.  And it‘s a very moving experience to be part of history and to share it with my family.  It‘s a great theatrical moment for the United States and it‘s a great honor for this president.

MORALES:  Lester, again, that‘s pretty much the feeling that we‘re getting from here.  A lot of people so proud and so happy to be a part of this today—Lester.

HOLT:  All right, Natalie, thanks.  And we‘re delighted the evening has turned out the way it has, weather wise.  Hot and humid day here, but a breeze has kicked up.  The clouds that seemed to threaten perhaps storms in the late afternoon seemed to have dissipated.  And the—our eyes will turn to the sky as we continue to watch that shot, waiting for the flyover of the Strike Eagles, the F-15s that will perform a 21-ship flyover.  What you‘ll be looking for is a single jet followed by four groups of four and then a final group of four.  And one of those jets then will pull up—will suddenly pull up and out of the formation.  It is the missing-man formation, representative of a loss.

And, of course, this country is feeling the loss and remembering the life and times of Ronald Wilson Reagan being carried on that caisson through the streets of Washington, D.C. right now as members of the Armed Services and police render their salutes and Americans and tourists from all walks of life and places lift their cameras to capture a piece of history.

Now, some members of the procession are actually moving behind me here, past the Capitol.  They are leaving the procession.  The rest, of course, will make its way up to the West Front of the Capitol where the president will be lifted into the Rotunda.  We should note a number of dignitaries, as this has been going on, have been arriving at the Capitol through other entrances and taking their places for this evening‘s state funeral.

F-15 Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Base.  And the camera locks in on that one from the last group that pulled out of formation.  It is the missing-man formation, symbolizing a loss.  And certainly we feel that loss.  Twenty-one plane formation, military parlance, they‘re hitting their time on target, exactly as they should, as the procession hit 4th and Constitution.  They were to be at that precise point, and they were.

Interesting to note, the E model of the F-15, of which that plane was, was a part of the Reagan arms buildup.  It was introduced during his administration and saw its first action just a few years later in the Gulf War.

There you see the caisson now making its turn as it begins to draw closer to the West Front.  And you‘re looking into the Rotunda now, as the dignitaries have gathered.  Vice President Cheney should already be there, members of the Supreme Court, other dignitaries taking their place, leaders of the Senate.

Inside the Rotunda at the Capitol, as we noted, there is a protocol procedure for where everyone is placed, how they enter the Rotunda.  They enter in the order of diplomatic core, governors, then members of the House and then members of the Senate and then members of the Cabinet.  Supreme Court justices will be in attendance, former presidents.  And there you see the procession as it makes its way to the West Front of the Capitol.  Members of the Senate here standing by awaiting the arrival of President Reagan.  They will unload the casket at the center of the Lower West Terrace.  Mrs. Reagan will be escorted by Vice President Cheney.

And behind me now, we see members of the Air Force and other units as they make their way down Constitution Avenue, as the funeral procession itself makes its way into the West Front.

This procession is following the schedule rather closely.  The ceremony itself, the state funeral, expected to get underway just after 7:00.

It will come by here.

It was just moments ago that all eyes here looked towards the sky.  It was expected, but certainly still catches you by surprise, the shot of fighter jets flying over the Capitol.  They came in a single shift, and then groups of four, a 21-ship flyover, same as the tradition of a 21-gun salute, if you will. And then in the final group, you‘ll see in a moment—again, these pictures taken a moment ago—one jet pulls away from the formation in the tradition of the missing-man formation.  Again, that was just a few moments ago outside.

Chris Matthews, many wonder why a state funeral and then why a national funeral, the difference, why they‘re both important.

MATTHEWS:  Well, a state funeral, of course, is a funeral which is of civil nature.  It‘s not a religious ceremony and it is granted to the family who wishes to have one, basically.  It‘s approved by the Congress.

I‘m looking here at the amazing list, Lester, of people who have had these state funerals: Henry Clay, of course, one of the great senators;

Abraham Lincoln; Thaddeus Steven, one of those people that I‘ve come to

respect, a radical Republican of the antebellum kind who basically wanted

to outlaw slavery and give full rights to African-Americans, way ahead of

his time; Charles Sumner, another radical Republican; Henry Wilson, who was

vice president to General Grant, President Grant; James Garfield, another -

·         he was assassinated; John Logan, a name that means not much to me.  He was an Illinois Congressman, and then William McKinley, another assassinated president; Pierre LaFonte, the man who designed this beautiful capital; Admiral Dewey, of course, the unknown soldier of World War I;

President Harding, who died in office; William Howard Taft, who was president and then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after that; Black Jack John Pershing, after whom that horse was named; Robert Taft, a man they called Mr. Republican or Mr. Senate, a great—very respected conservative senator from Ohio; the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War; John F. Kennedy, of course—we all remember that—Doug McArthur; Herbert Hoover; Dwight Eisenhower; Everett McKinley Dirkson; one of the most popular and most respected U.S. senators, a Republican from Illinois, J. Edgar Hoover, a man of let‘s say controversial legacy; Lyndon Baines Johnson, whom Jack Valenti served with for so many years; Hubert Humphrey, one of the most popular senators ever; the unknown soldier of the Vietnam era; Claude Pepper, who served after being defeated for the Senate in 1950 in a Democratic primary, which was a pretty dirty campaign, came back and served right through the 1980‘s as a member of the House; and, of course, the two police officers who were killed in defense of the Capitol back in 1998.

Jack, this is the first one since your old boss.

VALENTI:  Correct, the first one since January, 1973.

MATTHEWS:  Was there any question that Lyndon Johnson wanted a state funeral like this?

VALENTI:  No, there was no question he wanted that.  And, of course, he wanted to be buried at his ranch alongside the Pedernales River, where he is now interred.  And as I said earlier, there‘s a space reserved there for Mrs. Johnson when she passes on.  So it was a—it was quite a scene in that Rotunda that day, pretty much the same kind of script in that then prestigious members of the Senate and the House were there and others.  So it was just a different cast, but the same script.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go through the names of the people who will be attending this state funeral, Lester: Vice President Cheney will play the major role in giving the eulogy on behalf of the United States Congress and I must say, on behalf of the United States government.  Former presidents will come as well, heads of state from around the world, Cabinet members, members of the Supreme Court of the United States, the diplomatic corps, lots of—I expect a lot of ambassadors to be in that room tonight, in that Rotunda.  Secretary of state Colin Powell, the Cabinet members, as I said, the chief justice, the speaker of the House.  What an assembly.  As someone said earlier, this is a very dangerous time to have so many people put together in one room, and you can only imagine the consequences if it were struck in any way.

Interesting—here is the agenda of the funeral we‘re about to watch:

“The Battle Hymn of The Republic,” “America,” “God of Our Father,” those will be the hymns.  The U.S. Brass Quintet will play an assortment of appropriate tunes until the casket enters the room.  And then once it is the Rotunda, those three hymns will be played.

The eulogy, as I said, will be given by the vice president, Richard Cheney, Dick Cheney, the invocation by the chaplain of the House, Nathaniel Coughlin—the Reverend Daniel Coughlin.  The speaker of the House will give a short, five-minute set of remarks; the senior member of the U.S.  Senate, the man called the president pro tem of the United States Senate will speak for sometime, under five minutes.  We‘ll have the hymn of the Air Force, Singing Sergeants.  That‘s a great group that often sings at the White House.  They‘ll sing “America the Beautiful.”  And then the wreaths will be placed by Senator Stevens, Speaker Hastert, and Vice President Cheney.  There will be a benediction—so there will be a bit of a religious aspect to this—by the Senate chaplain.  His name is Barry Black.  And then the United States Army Brass Quintet will play one of the most popular songs in this country‘s history, “God Bless America.”

So it‘s going to be a wonderful, warm tribute to the former president, the late president, largely civil, largely public, but also, with a serious, I think, religious overtone, which I think is appropriate to Ronald Reagan, a man who had a kind of quiet religion not a man that went to church every Sunday because of security concerns, he said, but a man who had—people tell me, who know him well, a deep sense of his role in this universe as a child of God—Jack.

VALENTI:  Well, that‘s a—I think that the president pro temp, Senator Stevens, will play a big role, as you pointed out, in this.  But I think it‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and appropriate that the speaker, president pro tem, the vice president, all of those who are represented here today, as they should be. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to Lester Holt.

Lester, you‘re closer than I am right now.  I am a bit further away from the action but I can hear all the noise as you can.

HOLT:  Yes, Chris, the procession has essentially ended in terms of the military and the cadence.  They‘ve all made their way past the Capitol and the Old Guard continues now with the caisson.  They‘re moving it up to the West Front, as you see from this high camera position.  And there will be another 21-gun salute here before the president‘s casket comes off of the caisson.  And there‘s another shot of the riderless horse and Ronald Reagan‘s boots facing backwards.

All the dignitaries have now made their way inside the Rotunda in preparation for the state funeral.  But as we say, there will be a bit more pomp and circumstance outside the Capitol before the president is lifted up to the terrace.  There is an escort, an Army band, and platoons of each military service will form up.  And you see them there on the terrace.  The caisson—from the caisson, the casket will actually go up the Senate side steps between an honor guard—an honor cordon, I should say.  Let‘s watch.

No detail is left out of the protocol and procedure for a state funeral.  We still have on the line, Harvey Perritt, who once commanded the Army‘s Old Guard.

Harvey, we saw such great care as to how the flag was affixed and folded on the casket and then we just saw, again, more hands being laid on the flag.  Exactly, what is the procedure here?  What are we seeing?

PERRITT:  All right.  The colors have to be tied down.  Actually, they use straps.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc.  (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,