Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan

Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan
Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan

The casket bearing the body of former President Ronald Reagan lies in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda
Participants Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, foreign dignitaries, and members of the 108th United States Congress
Location Capitol Rotunda, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Date June 5–11, 2004
President Ronald Reagan
During the week-long events, each time Nancy Reagan appeared in public, she was escorted by U.S. Army Major General Galen B. Jackman

On June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, died after having suffered from Alzheimer's disease for nearly a decade. His seven-day state funeral followed, spanning June 5–11. After Reagan's death his body was taken from his Bel Air, Los Angeles, California home to the Gates, Kingsley and Gates Funeral Home in Santa Monica, California to prepare the body for burial. On June 7, Reagan's casket was transported by hearse and displayed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, then flown to Washington, D.C. on June 9 for a service, public viewing and tributes at the U.S. Capitol.

After lying in state for thirty-four hours in the Capitol Rotunda, a state funeral service was conducted at the Washington National Cathedral on June 11, the day when President George W. Bush declared a national day of mourning. Later that day, after the service, Reagan's casket was transported back to California for interment at the Reagan Presidential Library. The state funeral was executed by the Military District of Washington (MDW) and was the first since that of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. Richard Nixon, who presided over Johnson's funeral, declined to have a state funeral in 1994.



On the morning of June 5, 2004 there were reports indicating that former President Ronald Reagan's health had significantly deteriorated, following ten years of Alzheimer's disease.[1] According to Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, "At the last moment, when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother. Eyes that hadn't opened for days did, and they weren't chalky or vague. They were clear and blue and full of love. If a death can be lovely, his was."[2] His wife, former First Lady Nancy Reagan told him that the moment was "the greatest gift you could have given me."[2] President Reagan died of pneumonia at his home at 13:09 PDT (20:09 UTC, or 16:09 EDT). At his side were his wife and two of his children, Ron and Patti.[3] His eldest surviving child, Michael, was with his father the day before.

A hearse transported the body down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to the Gates, Kingsley and Gates Funeral Home in Santa Monica.[4] Following his death, Nancy Reagan released a statement through the office of her husband, saying:

My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away after 10 years of Alzheimer's disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers.[5]

Declarations and tributes

President George W. Bush was in Paris when Reagan died and acknowledged the death in a press conference.[6] President Bush said this on June 5, 2004:

This is a sad hour in the life of America. A great American life has come to an end. I have just spoken to Nancy Reagan. On behalf of our whole nation, Laura and I offered her and the Reagan family our prayers and our condolences.

Ronald Reagan won America's respect with his greatness, and won its love with his goodness. He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character, the grace that comes with humility, and the humor that comes with wisdom. He leaves behind a nation he restored and a world he helped save.

During the years of President Reagan, America laid to rest an era of division and self-doubt. And because of his leadership, the world laid to rest an era of fear and tyranny. Now, in laying our leader to rest, we say thank you. He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too. His work is done, and now a shining city awaits him. May God bless Ronald Reagan.[7]

American flags at the White House, across the United States, and around the world over official U.S. installations and operating locations, were ordered flown at half-staff for 30 days in a presidential proclamation by President Bush.[8][9] In the announcement of Reagan's death, Bush also declared June 11 a National Day of Mourning.[8]

Some of the early international tributes to Reagan included those of Queen Elizabeth II, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Soviet Union Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and French President Jacques Chirac.[10] Martin advised Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to order all flags across Canada and at all Canadian diplomatic missions in the United States flown to half-staff on the 11th as well, in sympathy with the U.S.'s National Day of Mourning.

People marked Reagan's death by leaving tributes and condolences at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, as well as at locales around the country significant to Reagan's life, including his presidential library, his birthplace in Tampico, Illinois, the funeral home where his body was taken after he died, and the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house in Eureka, Illinois.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, suspended his campaign until after the funeral out of respect for Reagan.[11]

News of Reagan's death put the ongoing presidential election on hold because it was considered disrespectful to have campaigns during a time of mourning.[12] In Canada, their ongoing election was put on hold as well. Martin, Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, and NDP Leader Jack Layton suspeneded their campaigns out of respect for "the family of Ronald Reagan, and (...) the American people, on the passing of such a significant figure in world history."[13][14]

Funeral events

Reagan Library

Nancy Reagan leans her head on her husband's casket at his presidential library

On June 7, Reagan's body was removed from the funeral home and driven in a 20-mile-per-hour[4] motorcade, by hearse, to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.[15]

Reagan's casket, a Marsellus Masterpiece model,[16] was carried by a military honor guard representing all branches of the United States Armed Forces[17] into the lobby of the library to lie in repose.[18] There, a brief family service was conducted by the Reverend Dr. Michael H. Wenning, former pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where Reagan worshipped.[19] When the prayer service concluded, Nancy Reagan and her family approached the casket, where Mrs. Reagan laid her head on it.[19] After the family left, the doors of the presidential library opened, and the public began filing in at a rate of 2,000 an hour throughout the night. In all, about 108,000 people visited the presidential library to see the casket.[20]

Departure to Washington

On June 9, Reagan's casket was removed from the presidential library and driven in a motorcade to NAS Point Mugu in Ventura, California;[21] it was the same airfield Reagan flew into and out of during his presidency when visiting his California ranch.[22] SAM 28000, one of the two Boeing 747-200s, which usually serves the president as Air Force One, arrived to transport the casket to Washington. Thousands of people gathered to witness the plane's departure. Just before she boarded the VC-25A Presidential Aircraft, Nancy Reagan waved to the crowd with her military escort at her side. The plane lifted off at about 9:40 AM PST.[23]

Events in Washington

The caisson with President Reagan's casket on Constitution Avenue, marching to the Capitol
The riderless horse, Sergeant York, with Reagan's own riding boots reversed in the stirrups.
The Bushes pay their respects to Reagan

In Washington, D.C., members of Congress, and much of the public, paid tribute to Reagan immediately after his death and throughout his funeral.

Funeral procession

Events in the capital began when Reagan's casket arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. It was removed from the plane, driven by hearse in a procession through the Maryland and Virginia suburbs and the nation's capital, across the Memorial Bridge, and onto Constitution Avenue.[24]

Just before the plane arrived at Andrews, the Capitol was evacuated for a brief period, for a plane carrying Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher was off course and created a scare by entering restricted airspace; the incident was attributed to radio problems onboard the plane and did not affect funeral events.[25]

Near the Ellipse, and within sight of the White House, the hearse halted and Reagan's body was transferred to a horse-drawn caisson for the procession down Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill.[24] Nancy Reagan stepped out of her limousine to witness the body's transfer; she was met with a warm greeting, including applause.[24] The cortege began the 45 minute journey just after 6:00 PM EST, with the Reagan family following in limousines.[24] Military units escorted the caisson as it made its way to the sounds of muffled drums. Behind the caisson was a riderless horse named Sergeant York, carrying Reagan's riding boots reversed in the stirrups.[26] The caisson paused at 4th street and Constitution Avenue, where 21 Air Force F-15's from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina flew over in missing man formation.

The mood during the funeral was far different than it was during the previous state funeral, for Lyndon B. Johnson; that was one of intense recrimination and the mourners then were far too angry and abusive and protested over the Vietnam War, as it troubled Johnson, and the wounds of it were still raw.[27]

Capitol Hill

The caisson stopped when it arrived at Capitol Hill; military units removed it, and "Hail to the Chief" was played amidst a 21-gun salute.[28][29] The casket was carried up the west front steps of the Capitol, mainly because Reagan was first inaugurated there and he wanted to face west, toward California.[29] Two teams of military body bearers carried the coffin up the steps of the Capitol to "Battle Hymn of the Republic".[28][29]

When the casket reached the top of the steps, Nancy Reagan and her military escort met it. As the casket passed them, Mrs. Reagan momentarily pulled away from her escort, reached out, and touched the casket.[29] They followed it inside to the rotunda.

The casket was placed under the rotunda, where it lay in state on Abraham Lincoln's catafalque.[30] An evening memorial service then took place, with dignitaries primarily composed of Congressional members, members of the United States Supreme Court, and the diplomatic corps;[31] the Reverend Daniel Coughlin, Chaplain of the House of Representatives, gave the invocation.[32] Eulogies were then delivered by Senate President pro tempore Ted Stevens, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Vice President Dick Cheney.[32]

After the eulogies, the three speakers each laid a wreath at the casket, and Senate Chaplain, the Reverend Barry Black, gave the benediction.[32] Cheney escorted Mrs. Reagan to the casket, where she said her goodbyes.[32] The dignitaries in the room paid their respects during the next half hour. In a rare instance, the doors of the Capitol were then opened to the public, who stood in lines stretching many blocks to view the casket.[30]

Public viewing

The general public stood in long lines waiting for a turn to pay their respects to the president. People passed by the casket at a rate of about 5,000 per hour (83.3 per minute resp. 1.4 per second) and the wait time was about three hours. In all, 104,684 paid their respects when Reagan lay in state.[33][34] The Washington Metro subway set a then daily record in ridership of 850,636 as a result.[35]

After returning to Washington following the G-8 Summit, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush visited the rotunda to pay their respects.[36] Many world leaders did the same, including interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan's good friend and associate.[36]

While Reagan's casket lay in state, Nancy Reagan and her family took up temporary residence in Blair House, the official residence of guests of the President of the United States.[36] There, she was greeted by additional dignitaries and public figures. During a visit from Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister wrote in the Blair House condolence book, "To Ronnie, Well done, thou good and faithful servant."[36]

State funeral service

Reagan's casket is carried into the Washington National Cathedral, June 11
Mikhail Gorbachev (left), Brian Mulroney (center), and Margaret Thatcher (right) attend the service.
President Bush delivers a eulogy to President Reagan

After thirty-four hours of lying in state, the doors of the Capitol were closed to the public and Nancy Reagan was escorted in, where she had a moment alone with the casket. A military honor guard entered and carried it down the west steps of the Capitol to a 21-gun salute where Mrs. Reagan, holding her hand over her heart, met it.[37] After it was placed in a hearse, the motorcade departed on the five mile-trip to the Washington National Cathedral, where the state funeral service was to be held; crowds lined the route of the cortege as the hearse made its way.[37]


About 4,000 people gathered at the cathedral for the service, including President and Mrs. Bush, former president George H. W. and Barbara Bush, Gerald and Betty Ford, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Members of Congress and past and present governors were also present.[38]

Foreign dignitaries attended as well, coming from 165 nations. The dignitaries included 36 past and present heads of state and government, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Leading the dignitaries were Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney, and Prince Charles (representing Queen Elizabeth II).[38] Other world leaders included UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Jordan's King Abdullah, as well as interim presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Ghazi al-Yawer of Iraq.[38] Blair, Schröder, Berlusconi, Karzai, King Abdullah, and al-Yawer had been at the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, and later decided to extend their stay in the U.S. to attend the funeral. For Karzai, the funeral was part of his week-long visit to the U.S. and it was the beginning of his visit to Washington. He scrapped a visit to the West Coast to visit the Afghan community there to attend the funeral.[39] World leaders that attended the summit, but decided not to extend their stay in the U.S. to attend the funeral paid tribute at the summit, including Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.[40]

Cathedral events

The motorcade arrived at the Cathedral and Reagan's casket was removed. The bearers carrying it paused on the Cathedral steps, and an opening prayer was given by Bishop John Bryson Chane, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral.[41] The casket was then carried down the aisle; the Reagan family followed and Mrs. Reagan was escorted to her seat by President Bush. Rabbi Harold Kushner and Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (the first female Supreme Court justice, whom Reagan appointed), then each gave a reading, which preceded the eulogies.[41] The choir then sang hymns—"Faire is the Heaven"; "Bring Us, O Lord"; "And I saw a New Heaven"[42]—before former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher delivered the first eulogy. In view of her failing mental faculties following several small strokes, the message had been pre-recorded several months earlier and was broadcast throughout the Cathedral on plasma television screens. During the speech, Thatcher said, "We have lost a great president, a great American and a great man, and I have lost a dear friend."[41]

Following Thatcher's eulogy, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivered one. Mulroney ended with, "In the presence of his beloved and indispensable Nancy, his children, his family, his friends and all of the American people that he so deeply revered, I say au revoir today to a gifted leader and historic president and a gracious human being."[41]

Former President George H. W. Bush then spoke, his voice breaking at one point when describing Reagan;[41] Bush had been Reagan's Vice President from 1981 to 1989. His son, President George W. Bush, was the last to give a eulogy, saying in part, "Ronald Reagan belongs to the ages now, but we preferred it when he belonged to us... In his last years he saw through a glass darkly. Now he sees his Savior face to face. And we look for that fine day when we will see him again, all weariness gone, clear of mind, strong and sure and smiling again, and the sorrow of this parting gone forever. "[41]

The choir then partook in singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and Theodore Edgar McCarrick, Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, delivered a Bible reading from the Gospel of Matthew.[41] The celebrant, former Missouri Senator the Reverend John C. Danforth, delivered the homily[43] and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang songs such as "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace" at the request of Nancy Reagan.[37] The Reverend Ted Eastman, former Bishop of Maryland, delivered the benediction, flanked by Reverend Danforth and Reverend Chane.

Interment at the Reagan Library

The memorial service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Nancy Reagan says her last goodbyes to the president just before the interment
Mrs. Reagan walks away from President Reagan's grave site after accepting the flag and saying her goodbyes
Reagan's tomb

Return to California

After the service, the casket was removed from the cathedral and driven to Andrews Air Force Base for the return to California, passing crowds along its route.[44] The family and close friends boarded the VC 25-A Presidential Aircraft,[45] and as she had done previously, Nancy Reagan waved farewell to the crowds just before boarding the plane.

About five hours after the aircraft departed Andrews, it touched down at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California. The public, including sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan, was there to witness the plane's arrival.[46] Reagan's body was driven in a large motorcade on one final trip though the streets of southern California.[46] As they had done throughout the week, crowds gathered along the motorcade route on its 25-mile (40 km) journey to Reagan's burial place, his presidential library in Simi Valley.[46]

Burial service and interment

The service drew 700 invited guests, including former Reagan administration officials such as George Shultz, and noted dignitaries; Margaret Thatcher, who travelled on the plane from Washington, sat next to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger[47] and his wife Maria Shriver; former California Governor Pete Wilson was in attendance, as well as former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.[45] Hollywood actors and other celebrities were also attended, including Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Mickey Rooney, Dolores Hope (widow of Bob Hope), Merv Griffin, Tommy Lasorda, Wayne Gretzky, Scott Baio, Bo Derek, Tom Selleck, Pat Sajak, Wayne Newton, and the Sinatra family.[47][48] The three surviving Reagan children, Michael, Patti, and Ron, gave final eulogies at the interment ceremony.[49]

Eulogies finished, and the service over, the Air Force Band of the Golden West played four "ruffles and flourishes", and the U.S. Army Chorus sang "The Star-Spangled Banner". Bagpiper Eric Rigler played "Amazing Grace" as the casket was moved to its grave site and placed on a plinth.[45] There, burial rites were given, followed by a last 21-gun salute;[47] members of the armed services fired three volleys and a bugler played "Taps".[47] At that time, four Navy F/A-18 fighter jets flew over in missing man formation,[45][47] and the flag that flew over the Capitol during President Reagan's 1981 inauguration was folded by the honor guard and was presented to Nancy Reagan by Captain James Symonds, the commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan.[46]

After Nancy Reagan accepted the flag, she approached the casket and spent several minutes patting and stroking it.[45] She laid her head down on the casket, before breaking down and crying; The Washington Post described Mrs. Reagan as having been "stoic through nearly a week of somber rituals" but she "surrendered to her grief after being handed the flag that had covered her husband's coffin."[44] While she cried, she kissed the casket and said "I love you".[47] Her children surrounded her, and attempted to console her.[47] Mrs. Reagan then walked away with her military escort, clutching the folded flag. The military band began to play the Victorian hymn "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" as the Reagan children said their goodbyes. Funeral attendees had an opportunity to file past the coffin.

The casket was lowered into the tomb and closed approximately before 3:00 AM PDT; the exterior of the horseshoe shaped monument is inscribed with a quote Ronald Reagan delivered in 1991:[47]

I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.[50]


Music played during the week-long events included four ruffles and flourishes, "Hail to the Chief", "My Country 'Tis of Thee", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", "Amazing Grace", "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" (also known as "The Navy Hymn"), "God of Our Fathers", "Mansions of the Lord", "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", and "Going Home".[42][45][47]

Security measures

The state funeral marked the first time that Washington hosted a major event since the September 11, 2001 attacks.[51] As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated the state funeral a National Special Security Event (NSSE).[52] Special precautions were taken because many of the events were open to the public and there were multiple protectees.[52] As means of assisting the motorcade, many streets were temporarily blocked off by law enforcement.[52]

Attorney General John Ashcroft told a Senate hearing before the funeral: "It is a sad commentary when the observation of a memorial service for a former president of the United States must be labled a National Special Security Event. Such is the fact of modern life in Washington and such is the nature of the war against al Qaeda."[53] MPDC Chief Charles H. Ramsey agreed saying, "In a post-9/11 world, we have to be very concerned about the potential that something could happen."[54]

However, DHS was handling another NSSE at the same time: the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia.[55]

During the services, the news media made note that the security measures also made evident that the era of terrorism that the world was experiencing had its roots during the Reagan years.[56] The worst act of terrorism against the United States prior to 9/11, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 189 Americans, happened during the Reagan years.[57][58][56]

Public and media comments

The majority of those commemorating Reagan were supporters of his, although not all held the 40th president in extremely high regard. In one noted example, Paul Mays, a retired engineer who never thought much of Reagan's politics, witnessed the motorcade leave the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base; he commented "This is history".[59] Frank Dubois, an American University professor, also was there for the motorcade, though of the laudatory praise he remarked, "[Reagan] hurt the environment; there was double-digit inflation. I just don't get it."[59]

The majority of media coverage of the event was deferential. Most major news organizations broadcast the various events live multiple times; during the week, the cable channel C-SPAN broadcast uninterrupted coverage of the funeral ceremonies. A few complained, however, that the television coverage was excessive and preempted coverage of other events. CBS News anchor Dan Rather was quoted as saying: "Even though everybody is respectful and wants to pay homage to the president, life does go on. There is other news, like the reality of Iraq. It got very short shrift this weekend."[60] Throughout the week, media experts reported that the national mourning, televised nearly non-stop on many television networks, provided Americans welcome respite from unhappy reports that American troops were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.[61]

Reagan's obituaries also included a few criticisms. Richard Goldstein of The Village Voice criticized the funeral for its careful orchestration, writing, "Because the networks had so long to plan for this production... this was the most precisely mounted news event in modern times. Each gesture was minutely choreographed, every tear strategically placed."[62]

Additionally, some media outlets were criticized for lionizing Reagan without paying equal attention to more controversial decisions made during his administration. Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland, College Park's journalism college, wrote in A magazine that the coverage "would have you believe that Reagan was a cross between Abe Lincoln and Mother Teresa, with an overlay of Mister Rogers."[63] Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post's media columnist, said Reagan was "a far more controversial figure in his time than the largely gushing obits on television would suggest."[64] The Nation ran a series of articles about the many controversies of his presidency.


See also

  • State funerals in the United States


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External links

Video coverage of the funeral
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Eyewitness accounts

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