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Fast Facts: Inside a State Funeral

The past instructs the present when the United States carries out a state funeral, prescribing a template that officials and family use in planning the ceremony. A look at elements of President Reagan's (search) state funeral, their place in history and some of the terminology:

Principal Events

A funeral procession moves to the Capitol from near the White House starting around 6 p.m. EDT Wednesday, an hour after Reagan's body arrives from California at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. A state funeral service in the Rotunda of the Capitol follows, and then his body will lie in state through the night and continuously until Friday morning, for viewing by dignitaries and the public. A national funeral service takes place Friday at National Cathedral before Reagan's body is flown back to California for a private sunset burial on the grounds of the Reagan Library.

Lying in State

In California, Reagan lay in repose; in Washington, he will lie in state. The difference is the setting: The deceased can only lie in state in the Rotunda. Reagan will be the 10th president to lie in state in the Rotunda, the first since Lyndon Johnson in 1973.

Beyond Washington

All U.S. Army installations with troops and guns join in a salute that began Monday with the firing of one gun every half-hour at each base, from reveille to retreat. On Friday, each installation will participate in a 21-gun salute at noon, firing once a minute. The day will end with a 50-gun salute at each base, fired every five seconds, immediately following the lowering of the flag.

In Washington, two 105mm howitzers will sound their booming 21-gun salute when Reagan's casket arrives at the Capitol on Wednesday evening.

Gunfire Over the Grave

Three volleys are fired over the grave at burial, a custom carried over from the battlefield, when warriors periodically paused from fighting to tend to the dead. The volleys signaled that the burial party was ready to resume battle.

The custom of threes is believed to have been adapted from ancient Rome, when mourners cast dirt on the coffin three times, thrice called the name of the dead and thrice declared "vale," meaning farewell, as they left the tomb.

Military Music

Each stage of the funeral is attended by music from a military band. Aside from hymns, traditional selections include "Hail to the Chief," graveside "Taps" and "Ruffles and Flourishes."

The ruffle on drums and the flourish on bugles are sounded together, up to four times depending on the prominence of the deceased. Reagan, as all presidents, will get four ruffles and flourishes.

Speed Limit

Processions using motorcades are to move at 20 mph.

The Caisson and Caparisoned Horse

Perhaps the most indelible image of a presidential state funeral is the procession of six horses pulling the black artillery caisson that bears the flag-draped casket. Only the three horses on the left are mounted, a tradition dating to when one artillery horse in every pair carried provisions instead of a rider.

Behind the caisson is another riderless horse, with an empty saddle and the rider's boots reversed in the stirrups, symbolizing a warrior who will ride no more. The caisson and caparisoned horse are central in the Wednesday evening procession to the Capitol. The caparisoned horse for Reagan's procession is Sgt. York, a solid black standardbred retired from the racetrack.

Pallbearers

The honorary pallbearers are former Reagan aides Michael Deaver and Frederick Ryan, entertainer Merv Griffin, Reagan's White House physician John Hutton, and Charles Wick, former Hollywood producer and former head of the U.S. Information Agency.

The casket is carried by "body bearers" drawn from each of the military services.