"I didn't know it would affect me this way, but yesterday I was depressed all day," said Benny Ortiz, 48, the firefighter chosen to climb up the 100-foot ladder and unfurl the 20-by-40-foot flag.
"He was our kind of man, very straightforward," Ortiz said, holding the flag. "We're barely starting to see now what he accomplished."
O.J. Simpson during his infamous slow-speed chase 10 years ago, and felt she had to do the same for Reagan. "This is a famous corner now," she said.
The motorcade turned onto the Ronald Reagan Freeway in the north San Fernando Valley and headed west toward Ventura County.
At precisely 11 a.m., the motorcade climbed a narrow roadway leading to the hilltop library, a road lined with presidential banners and small American flags fluttering in the wind. A CHP motorcycle officer led the procession of 20 other vehicles.
The silence was broken only by the rustling of trees and a CHP helicopter flying low across the canyon in advance of the entourage. Soldiers stood at attention along the roadside at the entrance to the 100-acre library campus and moved into a full salute as the hearse carrying Reagan's body approached.
The hearse, an American flag posted on each fender, made a half circle around the oval driveway at the library's entrance. The back door to the vehicle opened, revealing the flag-draped, solid mahogany casket.
The hearse was followed by a line of sport-utility vehicles and black limousines, the first carrying Nancy Reagan, son Ronald Prescott Reagan and daughter Patti Davis.
Holding Patti's hand and the arm of Army Maj. Gen. Galen B. Jackman, Nancy Reagan looked on as a color guard made up of members from all the armed services marched toward the hearse.
A Marine gripped the casket. At an inching pace, he pulled it from the hearse into the waiting, white-gloved hands of his comrades.
A 30-piece Marine Corps band from Twentynine Palms struck up "Hail to the Chief," and for the first time all morning, the sun poked out from the sky. The clouds reclaimed the sun as the band segued into a slow, dirge-like rendition of "My Country 'tis of Thee."
Four on each side, trailed a few steps by Nancy Reagan and her two children, the pallbearers carried the casket through a tree-lined courtyard, into the library and past a 10-foot bronze statue of a smiling Reagan holding a cowboy hat. It was then placed on the waiting catafalque, which was draped in black velvet.
The Rev. Michael Wenning, retired from Bel-Air Presbyterian Church, conducted a brief service, reading Psalm 23 and the Lord's Prayer to a few family members, including Nancy Reagan, children Patti Davis, Ron and Michael Reagan, as well as Dennis Revell, the husband of the late Maureen Reagan. Among the honorary pallbearers present was entertainer Merv Griffin.
At the end of the service, Patti Davis led a halting Nancy Reagan to the casket. The former first lady patted and caressed the American flag covering the coffin, then laid her cheek on the flag's field of stars, as if in a hug. Rising, she patted the flag again and was enveloped in her daughter's arms. An observer said she appeared to be crying.
The private ceremony ended in less than an hour. For a few more minutes, the color guard stood alone around the casket as cordons were set up around a square of blue carpet.
Before any members of the public entered, the library allowed Reagan's former lieutenant governor, Ed Reinecke, and his wife, Jean, to have a private moment with the casket.
Reinecke, now retired and living in Solvang and Rancho Mirage, said afterward that both had begun crying.
Asked to sum up Reagan's legacy, he said: "I think it was the philosophy of government, that it should be of and for the people, rather than of and for the government. He just turned the whole thing around."
By noon, a slow parade of Los Angeles MTA buses began disgorging members of the public 50 at a time to circle the casket and pay their final respects. They were averaging 1,800 an hour, according to library officials.
Security, shared by federal, state and local law officers, was tighter than at many events during Reagan's presidency.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were among the first visitors. They pulled up to a side entrance at 12:10 p.m. and were allowed into the viewing area as the public was briefly held back.
After approaching the casket, Schwarzenegger whispered to Shriver. They both crossed themselves, and Schwarzenegger placed a single white rose onto the catafalque.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry planned to pay his respects today.
Most visitors to the Reagan library were from outside the sphere of public life. Their orderly, somber procession was made all the more striking by the California casual dress. Dark suits and dresses were vastly outnumbered by jeans and T-shirts, short skirts and halter tops.
Lyle McCollam and his 14-year-old daughter Ashley drove two hours from Lomita to join the thousands of mourners. It took them four hours to board a bus from Moorpark College and make it to the library. It took about 15 minutes to pass by the casket.
The father and daughter said they decided immediately after learning of the president's death to make the pilgrimage. Lyle McCollam, a Los Angeles County paramedic, called Reagan the "father of the paramedic program" because he backed the law decades ago that established the emergency medical service.
"He's a true American. He symbolizes America," McCollam said, adding that Reagan was the first president he voted for. "He's just overall a great, great man."
Contributing to coverage of the Reagan memorial were Times staff writers Fred Alvarez, Andrew Blankstein, Amanda Covarrubias, Sue Fox, Gregory W. Griggs, Martha Groves, Daryl Kelley, Regine Labossiere, Mitchell Landsberg, Joe Mathews, Bob Pool, Jean-Paul Renaud, Catherine Saillant, Stephanie Stassel, Julie Tamaki, Wlliam Wan and Holly J. Wolcott.
The Passing of a President
Mourners flock to pay respects
Ex-president's casket viewed by thousands near Simi Valley, Calif.
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