America Says Farewell to Reagan During D.C. Rites
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 11, 2004 President Bush spoke for the nation when he said former President Ronald Reagan, "believed that America was not just a place in the world, but the hope of the world."
Bush spoke during the state funeral for the 40th president at Washington National Cathedral here.
Overcoming darkness was a theme of the service in honor of Reagan, who died June 5 at his home in California. Many speakers took Reagan's own illusion of America as a "shining city on a hill" as they fashioned their eulogies about him.
The mood inside the cathedral belied the weather outside. Gray clouds hovered and drizzle began as the service started. But the service led by Episcopal Rev. and former U.S. Sen. John Danforth celebrated Reagan's life and accomplishments.
Even the music stressed Reagan's optimism. A mass armed forces choir delivered "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang "Amazing Grace," and the congregation joined in singing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who attended the funeral, spoke of her great ally via videotape due to her own failing health. She said that Reagan, "sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the Free World and to free the slaves of communism" in his years in politics.
Thatcher said these were tough goals, yet Reagan pursued them "with almost a lightness of spirit." Thatcher said that "Ronald Reagan also embodied another great cause the great cause of cheering us all up."
Thatcher said that world today reflects Reagan's efforts. "It is a very different world, with different challenges and new dangers," Thatcher noted. "All in all, however, it is one of greater freedom and prosperity, one more hopeful than the world he inherited on becoming president."
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, another Reagan ally, spoke of the president's place in history. "Ronald Reagan does not enter history tentatively; he does so with certainty and panache," Mulroney said. "At home and on the world stage, his were not the pallid etchings of a timorous politician. They were the bold strokes of a confident and accomplished leader."
Mulroney spoke of Reagan's views on communism. "Some in the West, during the early 1980s, believed communism and democracy were equally valid and viable," he said. "This was the school of moral equivalence.
"In contrast, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet communism as a menace to be confronted in the genuine belief that its squalid underpinnings would fall swiftly to the gathering winds of freedom, provided, as he said, that NATO and the industrialized democracies stood firm and united. They did, and we know now who was right."
The most personal and poignant eulogy came from former President George H.W. Bush, who served eight years as Reagan's vice president. Bush visibly struggled with his emotions during his talk. He spoke of Reagan's kindness, decency, understanding and humor. "Our friend was strong and gentle," Bush said. "Once he called America hopeful, big-hearted, idealistic, daring, decent and fair. That was America and, yes, our friend."
Bush said that Ronald Reagan was beloved because what he believed. "He believed in America, so he made it his shining city on a hill," he said. "He believed in freedom, so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals. He believed in tomorrow, so the great communicator became the great liberator."
The present President Bush spoke of Reagan's rise to the White House and how success never changed the man. He said that from the former president's home in Dixon, Ill., to Des Moines, Iowa, to California's Hollywood and Sacramento to Washington, D.C., "all who met him remembered the same sincere, honest, upright fellow."
"Ronald Reagan's deepest beliefs never had much to do with fashion or convenience," Bush said. "His convictions were always politely stated, affably argued, and as firm and straight as the columns of this cathedral."
The president said that Reagan was an optimistic man about the economy, about the American dream and about his fellow Americans. "He was optimistic that a strong America could advance the peace, and he acted to build the strength that mission required," Bush said. "He was optimistic that liberty would thrive wherever it was planted and he acted to defend liberty wherever it was threatened. And Ronald Reagan believed in the power of truth in the conduct of world affairs."
All eulogists spoke of Reagan's widow Nancy and what she meant to Ronald Reagan. Perhaps the elder George Bush put it best: "If Ronald Reagan created a better world for many millions, it was because of the world someone else created for him," he said. "Nancy was there for him always. Her love for him provided much of his strength. And their love together transformed all of us as we've seen renewed, seeing again here in the last few days."