Dispatches from the Memorial Services
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 9, 2004; 7:52 PM
People this afternoon gathered for the services to honor former president Ronald Reagan. Here are a few of those scenes from Washington Post reporters covering today's events:
"He Was Our President"
James Conover, 58, who is a crisis counselor for D.C. Army National Guard, was struck, by the fact that scores of other black people had turned out at the corner of Suitland Parkway and Firth Sterling Avenue, where the motorcade turned off of the parkway.
"The folks that some of his economic policies impacted are the same people that are out here" lining the funeral route, he said.
About 150 people lined up on both sides of the the parkway near the Anacostia Metro station. Most were people who lived in Barry Farm Dwellings, the low-rise housing complex that overlooks the intersection.
Some held disposable cameras. A few had video cameras. Many of the younger people used the cameras built into their cell phones, turning the phones toward the motorcade as it made its way past them.
Conover said that he believed that Reagan's policies had not been friendly to the poor or working class. But he was proud that people could put that aside. "That says a lot about our people," Conover, a retired Marine, said. We don't have to like him or vote for him, but he became the president. He was our president."
-- Henri E. Cauvin, 6:55 p.m.
Casualties of the Heat
The heat took its toll on the military personnel standing at attention along Constitution Avenue. Several passed out and were treated for heat exhaustion late in the afternoon and were transported by ambulance for medical treatment. Red Cross volunteers started to pass out cool water to the soldiers who were awaiting the Reagan funeral procession to make its way up Capitol Hill.
-- Hamil R. Harris, 6:28 p.m.
First in Line
One of the first in line to go through the Capitol Rotunda was Derace Owens, 60, who flew into Washington early Wednesday morning from Jacksonville, Tex., to pay his respects to Reagan. Dressed in a linen suit and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat to shade his face from the sun, Owens said he decided to come the moment he heard of the former president's death.
Hours in the blazing heat and a cross-country trip to a city where he has no family or friends were not deterrent, Owens said.
"Reagan never put himself first," he said, tearing up as he spoke. "The least we can do is put us last today and put him first."
A few places back in line, Vickie Morse of Manassas finished off another bottle of water and added it to a growing pile of empty ones next to the blanket she had spread on the concrete.
Morse, 58, arrived at 11 a.m. with her two granddaughters and plenty of granola bars, liquids and books in tow. The wait was made bearable by chats with others in line. "This has been a great way to meet wonderful humanity," said Morse, a homemaker. "That's the way Reagan was."
A few feet away under the shade of a tree, Morse's granddaughters, Kaely, 11, and Keely Clapper, 14, played their fourth round of the card game "Speed," and pondered the president they had learned about on an A&E television movie. "We don't really know who this man is, except that he was a great speaker," said Keely. "Our grandmother dragged us here."
-- Karin Bruillard, 6:15 p.m.
Shutting Down Traffic
Commander Cathy Lanier, head of the D.C. Police Department's special operations division, drove up and down Constitution Avenue about 3 p.m. taking in the scene and making sure everything was going smoothly. It wasn't.
The avenue was supposed to be shut down at that moment but some police officers hadn't staffed their posts, between 3rd and 15th streets, and traffic was still flowing. In fact, several blocks of Constitution Avenue did not appear to have any officers.
"This is where I start to get the most nervous," Lanier said, as she flipped through a 2 1/2-inch police briefing book. "I like to see things happen a little faster."
Although the police department had been planning for Reagan's funeral for about a year, commanders had to cram several weeks worth of logistical work into just a few recent days.
With the help of an aide, Officer Patrick Keller, Lanier talked with colleagues over her cell phone and police radio while working feverously to get things moving. She was in charge of ensuring that more than 500 officers were stationed along the caisson route and other critical areas and that 129 other officers were directing traffic in the far reaches of the District to ease rush hour congestion.
Officers clad in their dress uniforms, dark pants, crisp white shirts, black ties, carried small duffle bags containing their bio-chemical hazard gear.
"Cut traffic," Lanier ordered over her police radio at 3:40 p.m.
By 4 p.m. after fixing a glitch on 12th Street NW and as Lanier's cell phone battery died, traffic ceased.
Lanier said police had done a good job "considering the number of intersections, traffic downtown and working in rush hour." Lanier and other commanders said they were pleased to report minor traffic problems in the city.
-- Del Wilber, 6:05 p.m.
Gabriela O'Leary, a Brown University student who lives in D.C., was taking her New York friend Ben Gottlieb to museums today when they stumbled upon the preparations for the president's procession. They were amazed at the turnout.
"I'm just kind of surprised that it's that big a deal," O'Leary said. "We were wondering where all these people came from."
O'Leary was struck by how many children and families lined Constitution Avenue.
"I didn't know so many people loved him so much," she said.
-- Avram Goldstein, 5:15 p.m.
The Proper Attire
Greg Williams was decked out along Constitution Avenue in Reagan paraphernalia. Reagan buttons covered his hat -- Reagan for Governor; Reagan Bush 84; Win One More for the Gipper. His suspenders: covered with elephants. His tie: covered with elephants, and adorned with a Reagan pin. He held a tiny portable television to follow the route the casket was taking.
"He meant a lot to me," said Williams, 40. "He's my political hero."
As a kid, he said, his father told him constantly of his own hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now Williams plans to tell his daughter his own stories. "My daughter is going to hear Reagan, Reagan, Reagan," he said.
--Jason Ukman, 5:15 p.m.
An Early Stake Out
Seated inside their white Ford Explorer, the windows rolled down, Susan Mersman and her 17-year-old daughter, Stacey, waited. They arrived at 3:15 p.m., the first spectators to gather in the parking lot of the Morningside Volunteer Fire Department, just south of where Suitland Road and Suitland Parkway intersect.
Mersman, 48, said they staked out their spot long before the plane carrying Reagan's casket was scheduled to land because they did not want to get caught in heavy traffic and miss it. "I thought it would be a good thing for me and my daughter to do together," she said. "I thought it would be a way for us to honor a former president."
Stacey Mersman, a sophomore at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, said she wanted to "witness history. . . My teacher was talking about it [Tuesday] at school and I decided I wanted to be a part of it."
-- Jamie Stockwell, 5:25 p.m.
"The Man I Would Have Married"
Carmen Rondesko, 80, drove to Washington from Sayerville, N.J., last night. "I wanted to come. It was my trip. My tribute to Reagan." She's accompanied by her daughter Mary Ann Spisso, 53, and her granddaughter Katie, 16. On the drive from New Jersey she revealed to her granddaughter that Katie's father, Walter Ronald Rondesko, 48, was named after the president.
In high school she kept a scrapbook of her favorite people, and included a photo of Reagan with then-wife Jane Wyman and baby Maureen. In high school she decided, "He's the man I would have married. I just loved everything about him." Also admired his life with Nancy. "That's the life I would have liked. I wanted to be Nancy."
When asked what she would do when she saw his casket, she said softly: "I don't know. I would just like to stand there and salute him, but I don't think I can. I'm just happy that I'm here so I can pay tribute to him."
-- Raymond Flandez, 5:15 p.m.
A Stars and Stripes Salute
Barbara Holleufer, 45, came to the city from Stratford, N.J., today, wearing her Stars and Stripes sleeveless blouse. A sign language interpreter, she came here to acknowledge Reagan's uplifting effect on the nation. "He really did a lot for the morale of the country when things weren't looking so good," she said, "and he's one of the presidents who didn't bore me . . ."
-- Avram Goldstein, 4:20 p.m.
A Fond Remembrance
The tears starting flowing when Marlene Lawrence remembered her encounter with Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. A 53-year-old high school teacher from Morgantown, W. Va., a proud Republican, Lawrence remembers seeing Reagan hustling into a waiting car outside of a Georgetown restaurant.
"Sure enough he did absolutely look and wave," Lawrence said proudly. "That gentleman didn't have to wave to anyone out on the street corner." As his hearse makes it to the Capitol, Lawrence plans to wave one last time.
-- Nicole Fuller, 4:10 p.m.
Quiet Dawn in the Rotunda
The Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol was empty and still as the sun rose in a Washington sky white with haze. The crowds were still many hours away from entering the grand circular room that connects the House and Senate and serves as the symbolic heart of American government.
Workers occasionally lumbered through, holding a rag or paint brush.
Typically filled with the chatter of tourists and the clicking heels of legislative aides, the Rotunda was silent as the dawn faded. Barely perceptible air currents wafted through the cool, cavernous space. A police officer with a dog appeared at one entrance, then turned and disappeared.
Lights on tall poles and television cameras were positioned along the walls, tucked between the fluted Doric pilasters and large oil paintings that depict scenes from American history.
In the center, under the eye of the dome and the frozen stares of bronze statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, was the bier. Built from pine boards in 1865 to support the casket of Abraham Lincoln, the seven-foot-long platform has cradled the caskets of nine presidents.
Carl Faison, a janitor who works the night shift, guided a battery-powered buffer in circles across the floor, polishing the gray and beige Seneca sandstone.
"I seen Reagan a few times," said Faison, who began working at the Capitol during Reagan's first term. "When he'd come here, you could see him, but just a glimpse, really. He done a lot for the country. But I wouldn't say I was a fan of his."
As the sun climbed higher in the sky, shafts of light poured through the east windows high up in the cream-colored dome. The Rotunda brightened.
In a holding area outside, a tiny line began forming for the public viewing that would begin 12 hours later. At 7 a.m., two women, one man, and a couple of teenagers took their places on the stone sidewalk.
-- Lyndsey Layton, 3:15 p.m.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company