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Thousands in California Mourn Reagan's Passing - 2004-06-08

More than 60,000 people were expected to pay their respects to former President Ronald Reagan at the Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles. The former president died Saturday at the age of 93 and members of the public are viewing his flag-draped casket. From Simi Valley, California, Mike O'Sullivan spoke with a number of mourners who came to bid the former president farewell.

As a military guard of honor stood by, 2,000 people an hour streamed by the casket in a silent procession. John Aragon made the long journey from Colorado with his wife.

"I made myself a promise about 20 years ago that when this man died, I would go to his funeral," he said. "Here I am. We're from Colorado Springs. We left there this morning. We made plans Saturday morning and said, 'I'm going to keep this promise.' And here we are."

Mr. Aragon says he appreciated Mr. Reagan's humility and humor and that the former president's leadership made him proud to be an American.

Mindy Lambdin of Camarillo, California, was a college-age youngster when Mr. Reagan was president in the 1980s. She came here with her daughter. "He was the first president I voted for and my daughter just came to the Reagan Library recently, and she came home and just thought he was such a spectacular person, so we got to share some memories together of my growing up with him as president, and we just felt compelled to be here today," she said.

Holly Stigler of Birmingham, Alabama was visiting California and came to pay her respects. She described what she felt as she walked through the small rotunda that contains Mr. Reagan's body. "Reverence for the moment and respect for somebody who meant a lot to my family and to the country," she said.

Roy Gold of Upland, California, calls the former president "a patriot." His friend, Paul Darafeeve, said Mr. Reagan was in his thoughts as the former president struggled in seclusion with a debilitating illness, Alzheimer's disease.

"It was something that I've thought about for 10 years, how it's such a shame that I'll not be able to see President Reagan," he said. "And this, to me, was kind of like the final time to get as close as I could. I know this will be his resting place, but today I finally got to see him."

Angela McDonald of Thousand Oaks, California, also paid her respects to the former president. "Because he was a great president. He was very, very much loved by the state of California, and evidently by America," she added.

Tamara Owens lives here in Simi Valley and came to the Reagan Library with her two daughters. She has brought them here many times, but says this time is special. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime [event]. That's why they're here," she noted.

Van Echon of Palmdale, California, said that he also wanted to be here today. "It's the right thing to do to pay tribute to one of the greatest American presidents and he was, by the way, my first commander in chief," he said.

Mr. Echon served in the U.S. Navy when Mr. Reagan was president.

Duke Blackwood, the director of Reagan Library, sees many different emotions among the 60 staff members and the thousands of visitors here at the library.

"One is this understanding of the historical significance," he noted. "There is sorrow, there is a loss, there are tears, there are quiet hushes. There are moments of silence. There are moments of prayer. It runs the gamut."

Wednesday, the Reagan family will travel with the former president's body to Washington, where it will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. A Washington funeral Friday will draw many world dignitaries. The body will then be interred behind the Reagan Library in a Friday evening service.