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Nation Begins Week of Mourning for Reagan

Thousands of mourners began filing slowly past the late President Ronald Reagan's flag-draped coffin Monday, now resting at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) and his wife Maria Shriver were among the first outside the family to stand beside the coffin and quietly pay their respects.

Regan will lie in repose at the library through Tuesday night.

Before the public began paying their respects, Reagan's family attended a brief private ceremony, during which former first lady Nancy Reagan (searchrested her cheek on her husband's casket for a moment and was embraced by her tearful daughter Patti Davis.

Monday morning a motorcade brought the casket 40 miles to the library from a funeral home in Santa Monica, beginning nearly a week of journeying across America that will end with his return to California for burial on a hilltop.

As the casket bearing Reagan was taken from the hearse and moved into the library, a military band played "Hail to the Chief" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

The drive began after members of the armed forces carried the casket from the mortuary in Santa Monica to a hearse while Mrs. Reagan looked on.

Clusters of people watched from overpasses and roadsides as the motorcade headed north on Interstate 405 and then west toward Simi Valley on the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Motorcycle officers cleared traffic from the freeways ahead of the hearse, limousine and accompanying vehicles.

Along the way the motorcade passed beneath a huge American flag suspended between the ladders of two fire trucks on an overpass. Traffic on the other side of the freeway came to a halt.

A banner hung along the route through Porter Ranch declared, "God bless you Ronald & Nancy." At another overpass, a banner proclaimed, "God bless the Gipper."

Earlier, the family paused on their way into the funeral home to view the spontaneous shrine of American flags, flowers and jars of jelly beans — Reagan's favorite treat — left along with notes, stuffed animals and candles by Americans who wished to pay their respects.

Mrs. Reagan, wearing a black suit and white pearls, read some of the messages. 

"Thank you for changing the world," said one handwritten note. The words "Thank you, Ronald Reagan" were drawn across a map of the United States.

Peggy Sheffey, 85, said she drove to the funeral home from the nearby Mar Vista area of Los Angeles to "just feel closer" to the man she had never seen in person.

"He's a wonderful man," she said, putting her hand to her chest and choking back tears. "He was so real, absolutely real. Down to earth. He didn't just think of himself. He thought of everybody else."

Reagan died Saturday at 93 following a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease (search). He left office at the end of his second term in 1989.

On Wednesday, the former president's body was to be flown to Washington, D.C. Following a state funeral, it will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda (search) until Friday.

The funeral, undoubtedly attended by world leaders, will be at Washington National Cathedral. President Bush (search) will speak at the funeral. The body will then be returned to Reagan's presidential library in Simi Valley for a private burial service.

A schedule of events can be found at http://www.ronaldreaganmemorial.com/pressrelease_st5.asp.

Throughout the day Sunday, mourners milled around the funeral home, many leaving behind tributes.

People did the same at Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Ill.

Ken Dunwoody, who grew up outside Dixon, said Reagan, while an icon of Republican politics, transcended political partisanship. "I just think of him as being an American," said Dunwoody, 82. "I wish we all could get back to that."

The Reagan family's spokeswoman said Nancy Reagan was thankful for the thousands of expressions of sympathy and, despite her sadness, relieved that her husband was no longer struggling with the disease that had robbed him of his memory.

When Reagan announced in a letter to the public in 1994 that he had Alzheimer's, he said he was embarking on "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

"I can tell you most certainly that while it is an extremely sad time for Mrs. Reagan, there is definitely a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering, and that he has gone to a better place," said spokeswoman Joanne Drake. "It's been a really hard 10 years for her."

In a piece written for Time magazine before Reagan's death, Mrs. Reagan remembered her husband as "a man of strong principles and integrity" who felt his greatest accomplishment was finding a safe end to the Cold War.

"I think they broke the mold when they made Ronnie," she wrote in the article appearing Monday. "He had absolutely no ego, and he was very comfortable in his own skin; therefore, he didn't feel he ever had to prove anything to anyone."

Former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday that the death of Reagan, who defeated him in the 1980 presidential election, was "a sad day for our country."

"I probably know as well as anybody what a formidable communicator and campaigner that President Reagan was. It was because of him that I was retired from my last job," Carter said before teaching Sunday school in his hometown of Plains, Ga.

Bush, in France to commemorate D-Day, recalled that 20 years earlier, Reagan had come to Normandy on the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, invasion.

"He was a courageous leader himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan," Bush said Sunday.

Reagan will be buried in a crypt beneath a memorial site at the library some 45 miles north of Los Angeles.

A curved wall adorned with shrubbery and ivy lines the memorial, which also features a three-line inscription from Reagan:

"I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life," the inscription reads.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.