By Michael E. Ruane
The Washington Post
ARLINGTON, Va. -- U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving legislator in the history of Congress, was borne to his rest Tuesday amid the strains of the mountain music he loved and the words of the scripture he revered.
Byrd, D-W.Va., who died at age 92 last week, was buried beside his late wife, Erma, in an Arlington County cemetery on a sultry summer afternoon after a simple but moving funeral service at Arlington's Memorial Baptist Church.
It was the final goodbye in a week of heartfelt salutes to the child of the Appalachian coalfields who grew up to become a lion of the U.S. Senate and a legend in West Virginia.
Byrd's flag-draped coffin arrived at the church a little after 9 a.m. and was carried by a military honor guard from the gleaming black hearse into the red-carpeted sanctuary of the 60-year-old brick church on Glebe Road.
The coffin, covered in a large bouquet of white roses with a single red rose in honor of his wife, was placed at the front of the church on a catafalque hung with black, as dignitaries and mourners paused outside in the shade to sign a guest book.
Inside, as people assembled in the wooden pews of the white sanctuary, the recorded sounds of the mountain fiddle music that was one of Byrd's hallmarks filled the church.
On a table before the coffin, a large Bible was opened to the 23d Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd ... "
The sanctuary was filled with dignitaries, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., former U.S. senator Paul Sarbanes and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Byrd had been elected to nine terms in the Senate, starting in 1958, and had served for almost a quarter of the country's history. He wrote a history of the Senate, was twice majority leader, and had chaired the senate's powerful Appropriations Committee.
Yet his funeral service was rich in plain, old-time hymns and readings from scripture, both of which mourners said Byrd would have loved.
The church's retired pastor, the Rev. Dr. William H. Smith, reminded those in attendance of how much Byrd, who lived in McLean, had loved the Bible, and how well he knew it.
Smith recalled how once, when he had preached on a certain part of scripture, Byrd approached him after the service, put his arm around him and recited from memory the 10 verses before and the 10 verses after the section Smith had cited.
"He described himself to me as a born-again, old-time-religion, Bible-based Christian," Smith said. "He was baptized along with Mrs. Byrd at age 19 in the Crab Orchard Baptist Church."