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Mourners flock to pay respects

SIMI VALLEY, CALIF. — SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - They came in blue jeans and old cut-off shorts. They wore somber black suits and Korean War-era uniforms. They were from central California, Massachusetts and the suburbs of Maryland.

Yesterday, busloads of mourners poured into the presidential library where the body of former President Ronald Reagan lay, beginning a week of mourning from coast to coast.

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"I thought it was a moving experience. We loved him as a president," said Ron Ahlquist, 61, of Tewksbury, Mass., minutes after viewing the casket surrounded by a military honor guard in the lobby of the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library. "He was a great man, and we agreed with his decisions as president."

"We've known Reagan as a public figure for so many years, so this was a great opportunity to bid farewell," said Ed Vasquez of Camarillo, Calif.

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Reagan's body arrived at the library in a black hearse with American flags on the fenders. Mourners holding flowers, flags, and posters lined the streets and roadsides near Simi Valley, 45 miles north of Los Angeles, as a motorcade of six black cars passed and headed up a winding hill to the library.

A Marine Corps band played "Hail to the Chief" as eight members of the armed forces carried the casket into the library, past a 10-foot-tall sculpture titled After the Ride, which depicts Reagan as a smiling cowboy with a Stetson in his hand. Nancy Reagan, accompanied by her daughter, Patti Davis, and son, Ronald Prescott Reagan, wept quietly during a brief ceremony. Wearing a string of pearls and dressed in black, the former first lady brushed her face along the solid mahogany casket draped in the American flag.

Shortly after the ceremony, a stream of red shuttle and city buses filled with 50 mourners each entered the library's courtyard. Senior citizens using canes and being pushed in wheelchairs as well as children wearing football jerseys walked quietly and swiftly into the library, where the country's 40th president will lie in a closed casket until late today.

The buses shuttled the mourners five miles from a nearby college. Library staff expected to see 2,000 mourners an hour. Among the first mourners was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who like Reagan was an actor before becoming the governor of California.

Washington schedule

Tomorrow, the former president's body is to be flown to the nation's capital. After a ceremony tomorrow night in the Capitol Rotunda, the body will lie in state there through Thursday. Friday will be a national day of mourning, with all federal offices and major financial markets closed. The funeral will be held at Washington's National Cathedral; President Bush will deliver a eulogy, and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be among the mourners. The body will then be returned to the Reagan Library for a private burial in a crypt beneath a memorial site Friday evening.

Condolences to his family came from across the world. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Reagan "will be remembered for his leadership and resolve during a period of momentous change in world affairs, as well as for the warmth, grace and humor with which he conducted affairs of state."

Maryland mourner

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Pam Fabrizius of Clarksville, Md., walked out of the viewing in the library filled with memories of Reagan and his policies, which she said not only ended the Cold War but also brought pride back to America.

"It was very sad, though thought provoking," said Fabrizius. "It makes me think of all the memories of him as president ... how he helped everyone to feel patriotic again."

"It's like losing a father figure," said her husband, Mike.

Whalley Oswald, 78, who emigrated from Britain 42 years ago and lives near Simi Valley, said he did not agree with Reagan's conservative Republican politics but he admired the man. "I liked him. I was against his politics, but he was a good man," he said.

At the foot of the library, hundreds of mourners stood at an impromptu memorial. Flags and jelly beans - Reagan's favorite treat - covered the area. There was a poster that read: "Thank you President Reagan. You made us proud again."

Yvonne Levy, 42, of Simi Valley, walked away from memorial carrying flags and cameras, vowing she would not forget the moment Reagan's motorcade passed by.

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"I was a staunch Reagan supporter," Levy said. "He was the first person I ever voted for. I cried the whole time as I watched the motorcade. I think he is the one of the greatest leaders of the world. He was able to rid the world of one of the greatest evils - communism - and restore the country by reducing the growth of government."

Dane Senser, 52, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., stood nearby holding his sign, which read: "I loved Reagan. The country admired him, and the world respected him."

Senser said he is not a Republican and has not voted since Reagan left office, but he drove four hours, past raging forest fires, to pay tribute to the politician he so admired.

"The woods were glowing in the mountains, and it was sort of a moment of symbolism to me. Through the fires, the trials and tribulations, comes peace," he said.

Norman Jones, who now lives in Belize, wore his Korean War-era uniform to pay tribute to Reagan. Carrying a photograph of himself standing next to Reagan, Jones said that the country has lost one of its greatest leaders.

"I put on my jacket and wanted to come pay respects to the family," he said. "I knew Reagan, and right now I am feeling just great emotional loss."

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Wire services contributed to this article.


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