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Washington Awaits Former President's Final Visit - 2004-06-09

The body of former President Ronald Reagan is being flown back to Washington for a state funeral expected to draw tens of thousands of people to watch as the casket bearing the remains of the 40th president makes its way down Constitution Avenue and to the Capitol Rotunda. It will be a final opportunity for Americans to pay their respects to the president who passed away at his California home, Saturday.

A military band rehearsed America the Beautiful as Americans traveled to the nation's capital from across the country - before the body of the former president arrives here - to line up hours ahead of time to pay their last respects.

"Reagan represented as an American ... he almost fulfilled and further developed the archetype of what it meant to be an American," one man said.

"Mr. Reagan is special to us. This is nothing to say goodbye to him," said another.

Amid heightened security, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer hopes to be able to accommodate all of the thousands of people expected to file past the body of the former president, as it lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda for 36 hours in what will be the first state funeral in the nation's capital in 31 years.

"We're ready to process through the magnetometer sites [x-ray machine checkpoints] about 5,000 people an hour, so if people are moving reverently through the rotunda and don't pause but do this in their hearts as they move through this, I think we'll easily be able to get everybody in there, " he said.

The body of the former president will arrive from California on a U.S. Air Force plane dubbed "Air Force One," a designation that is normally reserved only for the aircraft carrying a current president. Then it will be transferred to a wooden, horse-drawn caisson, which will slowly march up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol building with tens of thousands of onlookers expected to line the route - while millions more watch the event on television.

Friday, President Bush will deliver remarks at a ceremony at Washington's National Cathedral attended by world leaders, before the former president's casket is flown back to California for burial at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles.