WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- Calling Ronald Reagan "a providential man" who came along "when our nation most needed him," Vice President Dick Cheney saluted the former president at the state funeral service Wednesday evening in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
In what may be the last display of the pomp and pageantry for which the Reagan administration was known, the casket bearing the body of the 40th president of the United States arrived at the Capitol at 6:45 p.m., having been flown aboard Air Force One from California and then transferred the last 1 1/2 miles to the Capitol in a slow solemn procession.
Carried up Constitution Avenue in a six-horse carriage known as a caisson, the casket, upon arrival at the Capitol was saluted by a military band playing "Hail to the Chief," while his wife Nancy looked on at the base of the steps of the building where, on Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan first took the presidential oath of office.
The casket was carried up the steps by military pallbearers to the strains of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," reaching the Rotunda where an estimated 800 dignitaries, including current and former members of Congress, Reagan associates and members of the foreign diplomatic corps waited to say farewell to the man who is credited by many with having ended the Cold War and having restored hope to the people of the United States.
The service began with a call to prayer by the chaplain of the House of Representatives, the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, who after quoting T.S. Elliot said, "With his style and grace he made it all seem easy." Reagan, he said, "brought strength of character to the nation and rekindled hope in a darkened world."
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the chamber's senior Republican member and Senate president pro tempore, said, as he recalled a passage from Reagan's 1981 inaugural address that had been given not far from where he was now, Reagan "bore our burdens as if the outcome did rest on him alone."
Praising the president for his vision and his leadership, Stevens reached back to a metaphor Reagan frequently used to describe the United States. "It is our turn to thank Ronald Reagan for making us believe in that 'shining city on a hill,'" Stevens said.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, like Reagan a Republican from Illinois, delivered the second eulogy, beginning with the observation that "Ronald Reagan's long journey has finally drawn to a close."
"As we mourn," Hastert said, "we must also celebrate the life and the vision of one of America's greatest presidents. His story and values are quintessentially American."
"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 for the rest of the world," Hastert said. "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."
Cheney, who served in the House of Representatives during the Reagan presidency, delivered the final eulogy.
Calling Reagan "honest, decent and fair," Cheney said, "That is how he saw America and that is how America came to see him."
Reagan "possessed the optimism of a faithful soul," Cheney said, "who knew God's purposes to be right and true."
In the end, the vice president said, Reagan gave "hope to the oppressed, shamed the oppressors and put an end to an Evil Empire," saying he "answered falsehood with truth and answered evil with good."
Among the dignitaries in attendance were former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Reagan administration Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Alexander Haig.
Nancy Reagan was escorted from the service by Cheney as preparations began for the public viewing of the casket, which will lay in state until the funeral Friday at Washington's National Cathedral.
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