Byrd flies home one last time
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Robert C. Byrd was instrumental in stopping federal government plans to transfer Air National Guard cargo planes out of West Virginia.
The Guard showed its appreciation one last time.
A plane from Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing flew the late senator's casket from Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base to Yeager Airport on Thursday evening for an overnight public viewing and Friday memorial service at the state Capitol.
Byrd's close friend, state Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, was in charge of seeing that the casket and body are returned to Andrews on Friday afternoon. Tackett said his son was one of the C-130 pilots.
"It's kind of an emotional thing for me as close as I've been to Sen. Byrd, to be able to have this much involvement in paying our last respects to the wonderful job he's done for the state of West Virginia, the West Virginia National Guard and the military nationwide,'' said Tackett, who first met Byrd in the 1950s as a teenager.
Byrd, who was the nation's longest-serving U.S. senator at 51 years, died Monday at age 92. He helped secure federal funding in 1995 for new C-130s for the Airlift Wing and thwarted attempts to take them away, first as part of Defense Department cutbacks in 2005 and again in recent months.
"So it's only fitting that one of those aircraft is bringing him home for the last time,'' Tackett said Wednesday.
Tackett said Byrd also secured more than $786 million for revitalization or replacement of aging National Guard facilities.
Even before the plane touched down, hundreds of people lined the 2.2-mile route where a horse-drawn carriage will take the casket to the state Capitol.
Mona Hayes of Charleston met Byrd in his U.S. Senate office during a 1987 junior high class trip to Washington, D.C.
"I just respect the man for everything he's done for West Virginia,'' said Hayes, who brought her 10-month-old son, Dakota, to see the procession.
"I just felt it would be something for him to say that he was here,'' Hayes said, pointing to her son.
Following a receiving ceremony at the Capitol, the casket will be moved to the Lower Rotunda, where a 12-hour public viewing will be held beginning at 9 p.m.
State employees worked Thursday to prepare the Capitol. A red carpet, white benches and American flag banners were installed on the Capitol's northern steps to accommodate Friday's memorial service.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were expected to attend.