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FAREWELL TO A PRESIDENT

Lasting Memories Gleaned Along the Final Leg

Thousands line the 28-mile route, from Point Mugu to Reagan's burial site at his library, to see a procession some will tell their kids about.

June 12, 2004|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

As thousands of mourners lined the route, Ronald Reagan ended his long journey Friday with a stately 28-mile procession through a California landscape of farmland, freeways and suburbs.

Throngs of well-wishers had planted themselves at viewing spots hours before the plane bearing Reagan's flag-draped casket touched down at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. Proceeding at a solemn pace, the limousine convoy of security officers, family members and dignitaries left the base at 5:05 p.m. and arrived at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley about 90 minutes later.

Along the way, the 40th president's entourage rolled past cabbage fields and condominiums, peering out at crowds who saluted, waved flags and held their small children up to see a slice of history.

Sporting U.S. flag earrings, Nancy Goguen of Calabasas and her whole family were decked out in red, white and blue as they waited.

"Coming out here for us crosses political lines," said Goguen, a retired school secretary and lifelong Democrat. "It has to do with showing support for a really good man."

At the naval base at Point Mugu, more than 1,000 employees silently gathered on the tarmac as Reagan's casket was borne to his hearse by a military honor guard.

When Nancy Reagan emerged from the plane, the crowd erupted with shouts of "We love you, Nancy!" Appearing weary, she waved and smiled before slowly descending the ramp.

Outside the base's gates, the procession glided through the tilled green fields lining Las Posas Road toward the mountains in the distance.

At a fruit stand amid fields of sod, several hundred spectators gazed down the road as a U.S. flag and a banner emblazoned with a strawberry fluttered at half-staff. When the motorcade's California Highway Patrol motorcycle escort approached with blue lights flashing, some onlookers clambered onto car roofs. One woman wrapped a pillowcase around her waist with the hand-painted words: "God bless."

Spectators jammed overpasses spanning the Ventura Freeway. Outside shopping centers and subdivisions, they jammed the sidewalks, eager for a last chance to pay tribute.

In Camarillo, crowds stood five-deep in spots, with many people toting children, video cameras and flags. For those without the American symbols, two vendors circulated through the throng, hawking them at $5 each.

Matt Lorimer, 36, of Camarillo carried a sign that said "Stem Cells Yes," a nod to Nancy Reagan for her recent advocacy of the controversial research.

His 4-year-old son, Miles, has autism and can't yet speak. Advocates say stem-cell research may help in the struggle against autism and Alzheimer's disease, which afflicted Reagan.

At Spring Meadow Park in Thousand Oaks, neighbors set up lawn chairs and dipped into coolers for sodas and wine. On a blanket under a shade tree, seven children listened raptly as Rena Roberts, 35, of Newbury Park read to them about Abraham Lincoln from a book called "True Stories of Great Americans."

Roberts, a friend and their children had arrived in the park seven hours earlier to get front-row seats for the motorcade. When it had passed, a man nearby played "God Bless America" on his trombone.

Near Los Robles Regional Medical Center, John McCauley, 50, joined the crowd. His wife, Stacy, 34, had given birth to a girl shortly before noon and insisted that John snap a photo of the passing funeral procession for their newborn's scrapbook.

When his daughter is older, McCauley said, he would tell her how "one of the most popular presidents of all time passed by the hospital on the day you were born."

The Westlake Village resident would also tell her how he and his wife had spontaneously decided on little Ella's middle name.

"I said, 'Why not Reagan?' " McCauley said. "And she said, 'That's awesome.' "

Times staff writers Lynne Barnes, Amanda Covarrubias, Gregory W. Griggs, Catherine Saillant and Holly Wolcott contributed to this report.

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