WASHINGTON – Visitors continued to pour into the Capitol Rotunda Thursday to pay their final respects to former President Ronald Reagan (search), whose body was lying in state under a soaring dome where Americans once said goodbye to Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Some came in limousines and dark suits, attesting to their high station, while others came in shorts and T-shirts, after waiting through the night.
Boy scouts in khaki shorts and neckerchiefs, office workers with ID tags around their necks, tourists with children in tow, an American Indian in feathered headdress, all came to pay their respects and slowly file past Reagan's casket, draped in the stars and stripes of the American flag.
"Getting them up this morning was hard, but I think they'll look back on it as something they'll remember," said Susan Frays, who roused her three sons at 4 a.m. Thursday to make the trip into Washington from nearby Waldorf, Md. The family waited in line 2 1/2 hours for their turn in the Capitol Rotunda.
"They'll say, 'I was there, I was there,"' said her husband, Parko.
An estimated 5,000 people were viewing the casket every hour.
At midmorning Thursday, several thousand people stood in a line that snaked along the western end of Capitol Hill and around the Capitol reflecting pool. The mood was serious but not somber. Large fans helped cool those waiting in the steamy heat, and bottled water was available as well.
Thursday's procession came after a touching Wednesday ceremony and tribute in which Nancy Reagan (search), congressional leaders and others paid their respects to the former leader of the United States.
Stealing a few moments before turning over her husband to the masses waiting to say their final goodbyes, Nancy rubbed her hands across the American flag covering the casket, her lips moving, uttering unspoken words.
But aside from a slight glistening in her eyes as she whispered to her husband, the former first lady appeared to remain composed Wednesday, a day that saw Reagan's body carried across the nation and then remembered in a memorial service at the Capitol, where he will remain until his state funeral on Friday.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush (search) are expected to pay their respects on Thursday, as well as to visit Nancy Reagan.
The former president's casket will make its way to the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday for the funeral. It will then be returned to California for burial at his presidential library that evening.
'America Loved This Good Man'
During a service attended by hundreds of Washington dignitaries, the vice president and congressional leaders praised the 40th president for his humility, charm and never-ending hope.
"Knowing this moment would come has not made it any easier," said Vice President Dick Cheney, referring to the 10-year-long struggle the former president suffered with Alzheimer's disease. "In this national vigil of mourning, we show how much America loved this good man, and how much we will miss him.
"Ronald Reagan spoke of a nation that was hopeful, big-hearted, daring, decent and fair. That is how he saw America, and that is how America came to know him. There was a kindness, simplicity and goodness of character that marked all the years of his life."
As lawmakers and dignitaries sat quietly and paid their respects to the late president, the speaker of the House, president pro tem of the Senate and congressional chaplains emphasized Reagan's optimism, as well as the role he played in turning around America's economy and foreign relations.
"His integrity, vision and commitment were respected by all, but history's final judgment I believe we will remember most: his ability to inspire us," said President Pro Tem Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. "President Reagan put it best when he said, 'The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.'"
"Ronald Wilson Reagan had many roles to play in life: husband, father, governor. But the most notable role on the world stage was that of the 40th president of the United States of America. With his style and grace, he made it seem easy; with his compassion and sense of timing, he brought strength of character to the nation and rekindled hope in a darkened world," said House Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin.
'We Honor Your Grace, Nancy'
Surrounded by the couple's children, Nancy Reagan sat attentively throughout the service, her head bowed only during the chaplain's convocation. While officials paid tribute to the legacy of the president, they also gave due to the love affair between the president and his wife of 52 years.
"Nancy, none of us can take away the sadness you are feeling. I hope it is a comfort to know how much he means to us, and how much you mean to us as well. We honor your grace, your own courage and above all the great love that you gave to your husband," Cheney said.
"When these days of ceremony are completed, the nation returns him to you for the final journey to the West. And when he is laid to rest under the Pacific sky, we will be thinking of you as we commend to the Almighty the soul of his faithful servant, Ronald Wilson Reagan."
Before the services, Mrs. Reagan emerged from the Capitol building just after 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday to greet her husband's casket as it arrived following a slow march down Constitution Ave. Nearby, cannons fired off a 21-gun salute in a solemn farewell to the late president.
Upon his arrival at the Capitol a little after 5 p.m. EDT, renderings of "Hail to the Chief" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" played as guns filled the air with noise and smoke. The coffin was then taken off the six-horse caisson that rode Reagan's body down the wide boulevard.
'Funerals Are Not for the Dead'
In front of the caisson stood a riderless horse that carried the former president's riding boots. The boots faced backward in the stirrups in the style of a military memorial.
The caisson then made its way from the nearby Washington Monument to the Capitol. The gradual approach gave the thousands of Americans who came to bear witness in the 90-degree heat a last chance to say goodbye to Reagan.
A rotating honor guard carried the president's body up the long staircase on the West Front end of the Capitol, stopping once at a landing so soldiers and sailors could exchange places and carry the 700-pound casket farther up the steps to the Capitol Rotunda.
During the slow stride down the avenue marked with thousands of respectful mourners, a 21-airship flyover crossed the skies in missing-man formation, marking a partial escort for the president's coffin.
Nancy Reagan and members of her family accompanied the casket carrying Reagan on the flight to Andrews Air Force Base after escorting it from the presidential library in California to a naval base at Point Mugu.
Reagan's body was flown to Washington to give local supporters, as well as dignitaries flying in from around the world, an opportunity to pay their respects.
"Funerals are not for the dead. They are really for the living," said author, Washington Post writer and first lady historian Ann Gerhart. "This is something we do well, the inaugurals, the victory parades."
Earlier, a brief scare ensued as Capitol Police began evacuating the Capitol building after reports that an unidentified plane was headed into restricted airspace Washington.
The situation was quickly brought under control as Homeland Security Department officials contacted the plane, which was identified as carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who was headed into town to attend memorial services for the late president.
Early estimates suggested that 100,000 would pass Reagan's coffin as it sat in the Capitol Rotunda before his funeral.
Reagan was 93 when he died Saturday of pneumonia, as a complication of Alzheimer's disease. His death revealed that the popularity of the former Republican president, California governor and movie actor remained strong despite his long absence from public life.
Fox News' Jim Angle, Sharon Kehnemui and The Associated Press contributed to this report.