6:40 p.m.

Arrival at the Capitol's Steps

The first of the military bands turns onto the West Lawn of the Capitol. The instruments are silent but for the low rattle of drums. As the musicians near the steps, their heels clicking on stone, the patter of applause, like rain, drifts along Constitution Avenue.

A fighter jet roars overhead, and then four more in formation. Four sets follow, and from the last, a single jet peels off, soaring into the sky, vanishing into the haze.

The caisson bearing the former president's coffin turns off Constitution and rounds the corner onto the West Lawn, led by seven horses and four riders.

The bands assemble before the coffin at the base of the steps. The day has cooled as the sun dips low across the Mall. Everyone waits for Nancy. She appears on the landing outside the Rotunda. In the distance, a 21-gun salute punches the air at five-second intervals.

Eight pallbearers slide the coffin from the caisson and begin the climb up the steps. At the top, the pallbearers turn toward the entrance. Suddenly Nancy Reagan extends her arm and touches the flag atop her husband's coffin.

In a day of precision and ceremony, it seems an unscripted moment.

-- Eric Rich and Cameron W. Barr