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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Robert C. Byrd made his final journey Thursday back to the West Virginia Capitol where he began a legendary political career 63 years ago, rising from representing Raleigh County in the state House of Delegates to serving longer than any member of Congress in U.S. history.
Byrd's casket reached the gold-domed Capitol just as the sun began to set, after a daylong trek that included a last day in the U.S. Senate chamber and a flight back to Charleston in one of the Air National Guard C-130 cargo planes he helped keep based on Yeager Airport.
"Senator, we love you and welcome home," Gov. Joe Manchin said in a short ceremony attended by hundreds of mourners who turned out to bid farewell to their state's most accomplished statesman and beloved native son.
Hundreds of people joined in a public procession that carried the casket slightly more than two miles from the Robert C. Byrd U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Charleston to the Capitol Complex on the city's East End.
Many more lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the horse-drawn hearse that carried the senator's body. Many waved American flags or carried signs from some of Byrd's 15 successful campaigns for public office.
As a bagpipe band played "Simple Gifts," Byrd's casket was pulled by four white horses, and trailed by a riderless West Virginia State Police horse.
Gov. Joe Manchin, his wife Gayle, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson led a host of other dignitaries, National Guard troops, State Police and emergency responders who followed the hearse.
Some onlookers watched from jet skis, and a few paraded down the Kanawha River in boats. Some families parked their bicycles to watch the procession from Haddad Riverfront Park, for which Byrd repeatedly secured federal funds to build and improve.
West Virginians of all stripes turned out: Patriots for Peace activists and men wearing National Rifle Association T-shirts, downtown bartenders and Capitol lobbyists, fans of the West Virginia University Mountaineers and the Marshall University Thundering Herd. The United Mine Workers hung a huge "Thank you, Senator Byrd" banner on its district headquarters. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce planted new American flags in its front garden.
Byrd, 92, died early Monday after more than 50 years in the Senate, where he had become a vigorous defender of that body's role in governing America and was a singular force that brought hundreds of millions of federal dollars to help develop his poverty-stricken home state.
Earlier in the day, Byrd lay in repose inside the U.S. Senate chamber atop the Lincoln Catafalque, which was built in 1865 for the funeral of President Lincoln and is traditionally used when leaders rest in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
This morning, a public memorial for Byrd is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol's North Plaza. President Obama and Vice President Biden are scheduled to speak.
Thursday's processing ended shortly after 8 p.m., when the casket reached a waiting crowd that had gathered around the Lincoln Walks At Midnight statute on the Kanawha River side of the building.