updated 6/10/2004 10:49:12 AM ET 2004-06-10T14:49:12

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR:  How the flag was affixed and folded on the casket, and we saw again, more hands being laid on the flag.  Exactly what is the procedure here?  What are we seeing?

HARVEY PERRITT, COMMANDER, STATE FUNERAL:  All right.  The colors have to be tied down.  Actually, they use straps.  Just as the casket has to be clamped to the caisson.  You can‘t afford to have the national colors start blowing off of the casket. 

There is a fixed procedure.  The eight men that are right there right now are all from the ceremonial units of the different services here in Washington.  They are all experienced casket bearers. 

And they operate on a count, a silent count, rather than orders.  If you‘ll watch them, you‘ll see that there is a single order given, and from there on they do everything by a silent count. 

HOLT:  And I‘m glad you answered that question, because it‘s been curious, as I‘ve watched them move in unison.  Every movement, hands rising, hands lowering.  The pace. 

So no one‘s calling this out.  They‘re simply counting it off in their heads?

PERRITT:  They are all experienced.  The ceremonial units here in Washington, to include the Old Guard, the Marines from 8th and 9th and so on are all trained.  And you‘re using right now very experienced—a very experienced casket team from all of the services. 

The—everything they‘re going to do will have a single order to begin removal of the casket from the caisson and so on.  All of that, and then they go into a silent count.  They have to practice. 

HOLT:  And in fact, we know that there was a rehearsal yesterday here on Capitol Hill, but frankly, not an easy thing to practice on the streets of Washington. 

PERRITT:  No, however, these same men do the same thing in Arlington Cemetery when they are burying the—any member of the armed forces that‘s entitled to the use of the caisson. 

And so these are—I would guess that every one of those men has probably participated in at least 20 to 30 funerals in Arlington, and believe me, they‘ve been practicing since the notification of the president‘s death.

HOLT:  And again, we see the various platoons of each military service.  About 250 people here. 

PERRITT:  There is one platoon from each of the services, to include the Coast Guard, provided by their ceremonial units here in Washington.  On the left-hand side of your screen is the officer from the Old Guard on the staff, the next one is from the Marines at 8th and I (ph), and so on on down to the most junior service.

HOLT:  Mr. Perritt, did you ever get to meet President Reagan?

PERRITT:  I met him when I was the chief of staff at the military academy at West Point when he came up to graduate one of our classes. 

HOLT:  And knowing this president and how detailed he was in terms of ceremony, in terms of dignity toward the office, what would he think of all this?

PERRITT:  I think he would be very proud.  Not so much for himself, but for the way it‘s being done.  So far I haven‘t seen a single glitch, starting at Andrews and working now to the Capitol. 

HOLT:  You‘re watching with a practiced and a professional eye.  A bit of nervousness, even though you‘re no longer in command?

PERRITT:  Old Guard commanders never stop watching the Old Guard and the ceremonies.  You sort of know what the man standing right there in front is going through, and, of course, you‘re hoping it all goes very smoothly. 

HOLT:  Well, there seems to be this pause now.  Is this part of the procedure, or are they likely awaiting folks to take their places?

PERRITT:  I would—I would suspect that they‘re waiting for the people in the rotunda to take their places.  That casket team, incidentally, before they‘re done, is going to end up going up over 100 steps. 

HOLT:  And we note it‘s a 400-pound casket.  Let‘s watch. 

Ron Reagan, Patti Davis, the children of President Reagan, have taken their place now in the rotunda, awaiting the arrival of their father‘s casket.  Doria Reagan is also there.  That‘s Ron‘s wife. 

A family that reconciled during the illness.  The Alzheimer‘s suffered by President Reagan and has become quite close, bonded, by the tragedy of watching their father deal with this painful, and what many would agree, cruel disease that ultimately claimed his life at the age of 93 on Saturday.

If you‘re just joining us, you‘re look at the view outside the west front of the Capitol, and there is the caisson, and aboard, the casket of President Ronald Reagan. 

We can‘t really say for sure what the pause is here.  We have heard in the distance sirens, as we‘ve heard over the last hour, the escorts for various dignitaries who are attending tonight‘s state funeral. 

They are brought in in a specific order.  But it may be that we‘re still waiting on some.  That‘s simply my speculation at this point. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Honor.  Guard!  Attention!

HOLT:  Nancy Reagan being escorted by Major Jackman, a commander of the military district, Washington, D.C. He has escorted the first lady from the presidential library in Simi Valley to the air base and along the flight, the five-hour flight to Washington, D.C., and now escorts her to the U.S. Capitol, where the first of the formal services honoring the life of Ronald Reagan is about to take place.  This is the state funeral. 

And keep in mind on Friday there will be the national funeral, a much larger gathering at the National Cathedral here in Washington, D.C.

Nancy Reagan, who has clearly been thrilled by the sight of the crowds who have come out and shown their support and love and admiration for the former president.  She acknowledged the crowd as she left California today, turning at the entrance of the airplane and waving, much as her husband did on those many, many presidential trips.  And she acknowledged the crowd on Constitution Avenue as she was led from the limousine. 


HOLT:  One moment more stirring than the next.  Nancy Reagan, you may have noted, tapping the flag-draped casket carrying her husband as it ascended the stairs, and to the strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the 21-gun salute.

We should note at this point the body bearers have ascended as many as 83 steps, and we will not see the casket, we‘re told, for a few moments while they adjust.  They will ascend another 33 for a total of 116 steps before the president‘s body is brought into the rotunda. 

And there you see members of the Reagan family.  Of course, members of the House and Senate here, other dignitaries, members of the Supreme Court awaiting the beginning of the state funeral. 

You may have heard an ambulance.  Actually, a siren during the sounding of the 21-gun salute.  That was not a part of the schedule.  There was an ambulance that was leaving the Capitol, and no more information on that.  But that‘s what you heard. 

There‘s Michael—I‘m sorry, Ron Reagan and his wife; Patti Davis, as well.  Mrs. Reagan, dignified and almost a look of pride as she watched her husband‘s casket brought up those steps. 

And the caisson left at the west front, the riderless horse left there, members of the Old Guard of the Army.  It is a stirring scene there.  And you see members of the House, Nancy Pelosi, hands across their heart, taken in by the moment.

One must wonder what folks around the world think when they see a scene like this.  They hear the politics of Washington.  And I know every four years we go through the election cycle, and we argue about our presidents.  But at times like this we are one.  We honor not just the man, but the office of the president of the United States. 

And this, of course, the first of two official goodbyes, the state funeral.  The national funeral will be held Friday at the National Cathedral. 

It has been a remarkable day to this point, and it will continue to become—get even more remarkable.  After the state funeral the president will lay in state, and the members of the public will be allowed to come by and pay their respects to President Reagan. 

The outpouring we‘ve come to expect after what we saw in California, the outpouring we saw on Constitution Avenue this afternoon as the president‘s procession made its way on the horse-drawn caisson up Constitution Avenue. 

It has turned into a beautiful evening here in Washington, D.C., after a hot and muggy day, and that beautiful picture of the west front of the Capitol.

It‘s a city that, if you spend too much time here, it‘s easy to lose sight of the majesty and the importance of the monument and the buildings that surround us.

But it is a time that this city, deep in the middle of a partisan battle over our next leader, has ratcheted down the volume and honors a man who brought great change to this city, great political change to this city and this country.  Great change to his party, and a president who forever, many will compare others to.

The catafalque in the middle of the rotunda where the president‘s casket will be brought in just a few moments.  And again, we were told that it would be a few minutes before we would see the casket.  Again, the body bearers had ascended 83 steps up to this point.  And they will ultimately make the climb, the final 33 steps up the crypt level to the first landing and then ultimately to the rotunda level.

And again, you see members of the House and the Senate here as they gather and await the beginning of this state funeral for President Reagan. 

We‘ve had so much time to reflect and hear the thoughts of many who worked in Washington and worked with President Reagan, some who worked against, and most would agree the differences were often stark, and they were often strong.  But it wasn‘t personal.  That at the end of the day they were all friends, they were all patriots and they were all working for a better America.

The American flag being waved in the breeze that has popped up here in the mid evening in Washington, D.C. 

America has known for some time this day was drawing near, as we would hear the sporadic reports of the condition of Ronald Reagan, the toll that the Alzheimer‘s was taking on his body and, more importantly, his mind.  And then again, this weekend came the news it was close and that his time was near.

It, of course, came as the nation‘s attention was turned to D-day and the heroics of that day, and at the same time, in many ways, it became a memorial to the 20th anniversary of that event, when Ronald Reagan delivered his famous speech at Pointe du Hoc. 

Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan are also here on Capitol Hill, and gentlemen, I made the comment a moment ago that each moment becomes more stirring and more emotional.

And I also raised the point, what would others think, people not of this country, when they hear of our partisan bickering.  What will they think, watching this moment?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Well, I think that that‘s always, at least in the good old days, separated American politics from European politics.  Certainly the politics of North Asia, Japan, Korea.  A tremendous sense of agreeableness when they travel abroad. 

I mean, it‘s oftentimes common when a bipartisan delegation of Congress visits overseas, and they come as friends, that they shock the host countries in many cases, who are used to basically going to war with each other politically. 

It‘s not as calm as it used to be, but it‘s still a great example of Congress coming together that‘s not so common in the rest of the world.  Even when they have elections, they don‘t often have a calm democracy. 

And so I‘d like to think that, watching this would be an emblem of that.

I‘m looking at all these familiar faces, Lester, and I‘ve noticed that there‘s no segregation by politics here.  They‘re all mixed together.  There‘s, of course, Ted Stevens, the senior Republican, and Denny Hastert, the speaker of the House, both constitutional officers, I should say.  And they are, of course, in the line of succession after the vice president.

And, of course, you see mixed in this group no distinction by politics, which is one of those interesting things on Capitol Hill that you see, like those informal dinners they have among the guys who are in the gym, which is an interesting little club occasion, where the people to do the rubdowns in the gym are—in the House gymnasium have a dinner every year, and it‘s very bipartisan.  And they‘re actually friends at those events.

But sometimes, it does get very personal up here.  And what you‘re seeing now is not always representative of politics in action on Capitol Hill.

Patrick Buchanan?

PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘ll tell you what I think they see.

They see the leaders of the greatest republic on Earth coming together in testimonial and tribute to one of their own.  I think the pictures going abroad that they have been watching this week and that they are seeing today and they will see from the Rotunda of the Capitol send out a message that, despite America‘s arguments and her divisions, this is a country that comes together at solemn moments like this. 

This is almost a civil religious moment in America.  And it‘s as close as you can come to a religious moment in this secular country. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to this right now.  This is quite dramatic. 

HOLT:  The casket is laid in an east-west configuration on the catafalque in the center of the Rotunda, the president‘s head facing the east door.  And in this high shot here—let‘s listen. 

REVEREND DANIEL COUGHLIN, U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASTOR:  The poet T.S. Elliot wrote, “neither does the actor suffer, nor the patient act, but both are fixed in an eternal patience and eternal act, and the wheel turns.  The wheel turns and is forever still.” 

Ronald Wilson Reagan had many roles to play in life: husband, father, governor, but the most notable role on the world stage was that of the 40th president of the United States of America.  With his style and grace, he made it seem easy.  With his compassion and sense of timing, he brought strength of character to the nation and enkindled hope in a darkened world. 

As the patient, he brought humility to greatness and presided over embracing life to its natural end and dying with dignity, surrounded by love. 

To you, oh lord, ever patient with all of us, ever active in all of us, be praise and thanks for the life and impact Ronald Reagan has had upon us all.  Support with your grace the Reagan family and especially Mrs.  Nancy Reagan, who stood by him in memorable moments of history and never left him in the long moments of difficult performance when the wheel turned oh so slowly. 

Inspired by President Reagan, empower all of us, Lord, to employ our part in crumbling the walls of separation and open the gates to a globalized world. 

May our stillness here help us to remain faithful and patient with those suffering and to make decisions that will renew faith in the future.  All-powerful God, fix America in your eternal patience, in your eternal act, as the wheel turns now and forever.  Amen. 

HOLT:  The five honor guards now are being posted.  In a moment, the body bearers who brought President Reagan‘s casket and placed it aboard the catafalque will be dismissed.

SEN. TED STEVENS ®, ALASKA:  Mrs. Reagan, Patty, Ron, Michael, distinguished guests, members of the Reagan family and friends of Ronald Reagan in America and throughout the world, tonight, President Ronald Reagan has returned to the people‘s house to be honored by millions of Americans who loved him. 

Since 1824, under this Rotunda, our nation has paid final tribute to many dedicated public servants.  President Abraham Lincoln was the first president to lie in state under this Capitol dome.  In the coming days, thousands will come to these hallowed halls to say goodbye to another son of Illinois, who, like Lincoln, appealed to our best hopes, not our worst fears. 

In the life of any nation, few men forever alter the course of history.  Ronald Reagan was one of those men.  He rose from a young boy who didn‘t have much to a man who had it all, including the love of a faithful partner and friend he found in his wife, Nancy.  The true measure of any man is what he does with the opportunities life offers. 

By that standard, Ronald Reagan was one of America‘s greatest.  He first proved that as governor of California, and later as president of the United States.  When Ronald Reagan was sworn in as our 40th president, this nation was gripped by a powerful malaise.  Inflation and unemployment were soaring, and the Soviet Union was winning the Cold War. 

By the time President Reagan left office, he had reversed the trend of ever-increasing government control over our lives, restored our defense capabilities, guided us through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and set in motion policies which ultimately led to the collapse of the evil empire.  His integrity, vision and commitment were respected by all.

But history‘s final judgment, I believe, will remember most his ability to inspire us.  President Reagan put it best when he said, the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things.  He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.  This president inspired Americans by reaching out far beyond what he could attain. 

Like a good coach, he understood the value of a goal isn‘t always in achieving it.  Sometimes, it‘s enough to simply look out into the future and remind people what is possible.  And, often, President Reagan achieved the impossible.  He reminded us that government is not the solution.  The solution lies in each of us.  True American heroes are ordinary people who live their lives with extraordinary character and strength. 

President Reagan showed us freedom was not just a slogan.  He actually brought freedom to hundreds of thousands of people around this globe by opposing oppressive regimes.  Those of us from the World War II generation looked up to him for his moral courage.  In him, we saw leadership of great men like Eisenhower, who led the way and moved us to follow.

On a wintry day in 1981, Ronald Reagan stood on the steps that lie just behind these doors to deliver his first inaugural address.  He spoke of a journal written by a young American who went to France in 1917 and died for the cause of freedom.  From that journal, he read these words: “I will work.  I will save.  I will sacrifice.  I will endure.  I will fight cheerfully.  And I will do my utmost, as if the whole issue of the whole struggle depended upon me alone.

Throughout his life, Ronald Reagan bore our burdens as if the income did depend on him alone.  We will all remember him as an unparalleled leader and an exceptional man who lifted our nation and set the world on a new path.  President Reagan achieved greatness in his life.  Some might even argue, he transcended it. 

He could not have accomplished this without Nancy.  Nancy is one of the finest first ladies these United States have ever known.  And the love Ronald and Nancy Reagan shared touched the hearts of people everywhere.  In 1989, President Reagan delivered his farewell address from the Oval Office.  In that speech, the president spoke of the shining city on a hill, that, after 200 years, two centuries, still stands strong and true on the granite ridge.

Now it is our turn to thank Ronald Reagan for making us believe in that shining city.  And, as we say farewell, his last words as president echo across this nation.  If we listen, if we listen, we will hear him whisper the humble words he used to sum up his revolution:  All in all, not bad, not bad at all. 

HOLT:  That was the President Pro Tem of the U.S. Senate, Senator Ted Stevens.

Now the speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert. 

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Mrs. Reagan, Mr.  Vice President, members of Congress and distinguished guests, Ronald Reagan‘s long journey has finally drawn to a close. 

It is altogether fitting and proper that he has returned to this Capitol Rotunda, like another great son of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, so the nation can say goodbye. 

This Capitol Building is, for many, the greatest symbol of democracy and freedom in the world.  It brings to mind the shining city on a hill of which President Reagan so often spoke.  It is the right place to honor a man who so faithfully defended our freedom and so successfully helped extend the blessings of liberty to millions of people around the world. 

Mrs. Reagan, thank you for sharing your husband with us, for your steadfast love and for your great faith.  We pray for you and for your family in this time of great mourning.  But, as we mourn, we must also celebrate the life and the vision of one of America‘s greatest presidents.  His story and values are quintessentially American. 

Born in Tampico, Illinois, and then raised in Dixon, Illinois, he moved west to follow his dreams.  He brought with him a Midwest optimism, and he blended it with a Western can-do spirit.  In 1980, the year of the Reagan revolution, his vision of hope, of growth, of opportunity, was exactly what the American people needed and wanted. 

His message touched the fundamental core that is deeply embedded in the American experience.  President Reagan dared to dream that America had a special mission.  He believed in the essential goodness of the American people and that we had a special duty to promote peace and freedom through the rest of the world. 

Against the advice of the timid, he sent a chilling message to authoritarian governments everywhere that the civilized world would not rest until freedom reigned in every corner of the globe.  While others worried, President Reagan persevered.  When others weakened, President Reagan stood tall. 

When others stepped back, President Reagan stepped forward.  And he did it all with great humility, with great charm, and with great humor.  Tonight, we will open these doors and let the men and women who Ronald Reagan served so faithfully, file past and say goodbye to a man who meant so much to so many.  It is their being here that I think would mean more to him than any words that we may say, because it was from America‘s great and good people that Ronald Reagan drew his strength. 

In the years ahead, we will tell our grandchildren about this night when we gathered here to honor the man from Illinois who became the son of California and then the son of all America.  And then our grandchildren will tell their grandchildren and President Reagan‘s spirit and eternal faith in America will carry on. 

Ronald Reagan helped make our country and this world a better place to live, but he always believed that our best days were ahead of us, not behind us.  I can still hear him say, with that twinkle in his eye, you ain‘t seen nothing yet.  President Reagan once said, we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

Twenty years ago, President Reagan stood on the beaches of Normandy to honor those who made a life by what they gave.  Recalling the men who scaled the cliffs and crossed the beaches in a merciless hail of bullets, he asked, who were these men, these ordinary men doing extraordinary things?

His answer was simple and direct.  They were Americans.  So, I can think of no higher tribute or honor or title to confer upon Ronald Reagan than just to simply say, he was an American. 

Godspeed, Mr. President.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Mrs. Reagan, members of the president‘s family, colleagues, distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps, fellow citizens, knowing that this moment would come has not made it any easier, to see the honor guard and flag draped before us and to begin America‘s farewell to President Ronald Reagan.

He said goodbye to us in a letter that showed his great courage and love for America.  Yet for his friends and his country, the parting comes only now.  And in this national vigil of mourning, we show how much America loved this good man and how greatly we will miss him.

A harsh winter morning in 1985 brought the inaugural ceremony inside of this Rotunda.  And standing in this place for the 50th presidential inauguration, Ronald Reagan spoke of a nation that was hopeful, big hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair.

That was how he saw America, and that was how America came to know him.

There was a kindness, simplicity and goodness of character that marked all of the years of his life. 

When you mourn a man of 93, no one is left who remembers him as a child in his mother‘s arm.  Ronald Wilson Reagan‘s life began in a time and a place so different from our own in a quiet town on the prairie on the 6th of February, 1911.

Nell and Jack Reagan would live long enough to see the kind of man they had raised, but they could never know all of that destiny had in store for the boy they called “Dutch.”

And if they could witness this funeral in 2004, their son, taken to his rest with the full honors of the United States, they would be so proud of all he had done with the life they gave him and the things they taught him.

President Reagan once said, “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition and maybe a little something about telling a story.” 

That was the Ronald Reagan who confidently set out on his own from Dixon, Illinois during the Great Depression, a man who would one day speak before families and crowds with such ease and self-command.

“From my mother,” said President Reagan, “I learned the value of prayer.  My mother told me that everything in life happened for a purpose.  She said all things were part of God‘s plan, even the most disheartening setbacks.  And, in the end, everything worked out for the best.”

This was the Ronald Reagan who had faith, not just in his own gifts and his own future, but in the possibilities of every life.  The cheerful spirit that carried him forward was more than a disposition; it was the optimism of a faithful soul who trusted in God‘s purposes and knew those purposes to be right and true.

He once said “There‘s no question, I am an idealist,” which is another way of saying, “I am an American.” 

We usually associate that quality with youth, and yet one of the most idealistic men ever to become president was also the oldest.  He excelled in professions that have left many others jaded and self-satisfied, and yet somehow remained untouched by the worst influences of fame or power. 

If Ronald Reagan ever uttered a cynical or a cruel or a selfish word, the moment went unrecorded.  Those who knew him in his youth and those who knew him a lifetime later all remember his largeness of spirit, his gentle instincts and a quiet rectitude that drew others to him.

Seen now at a distance, his strengths as a man and as a leader are only more impressive.  It‘s the nature of the city of Washington that men and women arrive, leave their mark and go their way.  Some figures who seemed quite large and important in their day are sometimes forgotten or remembered with ambivalence. 

Yet nearly a generation after the often impatient debates of the Reagan years what lingers from that time is almost all good.  And this is because of the calm and kind man who stood at the center of events.

We think back with appreciation for the decency of our 40th president and respect for all that he achieved.  After so much turmoil in the ‘60s and ‘70s, our nation had begun to lose confidence.  And some were heard to say that the presidency might even be too big for one man.  That phrase did not survive the 1980s. 

For decades, American had waged a Cold War and few believed it could possibly end in our own lifetimes.  The president was one of those few.  And it was the vision and the will of Ronald Reagan that gave hope to the oppressed, shamed the oppressors and ended an evil empire.

CHENEY:  More than any other influence, the Cold War was ended by the perseverance and courage of one man who answered falsehood with truth and overcame evil with good.

Ronald Reagan was more than a historic figure.  He was a providential man who came along just when our nation and the world most needed him.

And believing as he did that there is a plan at work in each life, he accepted not only the great duties that came to him, but also the great trials that came near the end.

When he learned of his illness, his first thoughts were of Nancy.

And who else but Ronald Reagan could face his own decline and death with a final message of hope to his country, telling us that for America, there is always a bright dawn ahead?

Fellow Americans, here lies a graceful and a gallant man.

Nancy, none of us can take away the sadness you are feeling.  I hope it is a comfort to know how much he means to us and how much you mean to us as well.

We honor your grace, your own courage and, above all, the great love that you gave to your husband.

When these days of ceremony are completed, the nation returns him to you for the final journey to the West.

And when he is laid to rest under the Pacific sky, we will be thinking of you as we commend to the Almighty the soul of his faithful servant, Ronald Wilson Reagan.


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