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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate bid farewell Thursday to Robert C. Byrd, the homespun West Virginian who for half a century held sway with his thunderous oratory and fierce advocacy of his state and the Senate he loved.
Byrd, who died Monday at age 92, lay in repose on the Senate floor for six hours while senators, both past and present, and Capitol Hill staffers lined up to pay their final respects to the late senator and his family.
Byrd's hearse then left for Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland for a flight to Charleston, W.Va. There is to be an overnight public viewing in the rotunda of the state Capitol, followed by a memorial service in Charleston today led by President Obama and Vice President Biden.
Private services are scheduled for Tuesday at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where Byrd will be buried next to his wife of almost seven decades, Erma.
Byrd entered the Senate in 1959, concurrent with Alaska becoming a state. He served longer, and cast more votes - 18,689 - than any senator in history. He twice rose to become Senate majority leader and, because of his seniority, was the Senate president pro tempore, putting him third in line for the presidency behind the vice president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Byrd, who grew up in impoverished coal country in a home without indoor plumbing, was also known for funneling billions of federal dollars into West Virginia, where the senator's name adorns numerous highways, bridges and buildings.
But it was his love of the Senate, with its history and traditions and arcane rules, that drove the decision to commemorate him on the Senate floor, rather than in the Capitol's Rotunda where other prominent figures lie in state or in honor.
A military honor guard carried Byrd's casket up the Capitol steps, past the senator's portrait in a lobby and into the Senate chamber, where lawmakers and others, many not born when he first entered the Senate, lined up to pay tribute before the flag-draped casket.