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Thousands pay respects to Reagan at Calif. vigil

Chicago Tribune

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Tens of thousands of people traveled for hours -- some taking as long as four hours to go the last four miles -- to say a personal farewell yesterday to Ronald Reagan, a man many praised as the greatest president of their lifetimes.

As of late yesterday, more than 80,000 visitors had paid their respects at Reagan's closed casket in the rotunda of his presidential library in Simi Valley, said R. Duke Blackwood, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The flow of mourners stopped briefly when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry arrived to pay his respects yesterday afternoon.

Some people had journeyed for 12 to 14 hours, including a wait of seven hours for a shuttle bus at the pickup site, to spend two minutes circling around Reagan's casket inside the library, Blackwood said.

"It's an awesome tribute to Ronald Reagan," Blackwood said. "These people get emotional. They kneel down. They say prayers. It's just wonderful."

Chris MacArthur, 44, of Riverside, Calif., left his home at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and spent two hours in a car with his 8-year-old son traveling to the shuttle bus depot near the Reagan library.

Then they had to wait in line for two hours for a shuttle bus. Then a half-hour riding on the shuttle bus. And then 10 to 15 minutes waiting in line to enter the viewing area, where an honor guard stood at attention around Reagan's solid mahogany casket, resting on a black velvet-palled catafalque.

"It was not bad," MacArthur said of the long journey.

Since age 7, MacArthur has been a fan of Reagan's, remembering his first campaign for California governor in 1966. MacArthur said he volunteered for Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign.

"I want my son to see this," he said, noting that he kept his son out of school. "I probably won't see this again in my lifetime, unless Schwarzenegger gets elected president and they get rid of the foreign-born rule."

When he entered the rotunda, the hush overwhelmed him, as if entering sacred space, he said.

"You feel the air taken right out of you. It's a very emotional time," said MacArthur, a financial adviser.

Some visitors arrived in wheelchairs, including Bonnie Brandenburg, 84, of Wilmington, Calif., who was accompanied by grandchildren Matthew Dino, 21, and Megan Dino, 20.

"I always thought he was a wonderful president and leader, and I like Nancy so well. She's a beautiful first lady," Brandenburg said.

Reagan's body will be transported to Washington today for the start of honors in the nation's capital that will include lying in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol.

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