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An Extraordinary Tribute

For the dead heroes, it was their last trip to the Capitol -- and this time they came with a motorcycle escort.

Their coffins were being brought here for what would be an extraordinary tribute -- one usually reserved for statesmen and presidents.

Their remains would lie in tribute under the capitol dome in the great rotunda of the capitol.

President Clinton and congressional leaders paid tribute Tuesday at the caskets of Jacob J. Chestnut and John Gibson, slain defending the historic building they were sworn to protect.

Clinton praised the men's "quiet courage and uncommon bravery" and added, "Until crisis reveals their courage, we do not see how truly special they are."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich(AP)
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott added: "The spirit of freedom is in this room because of these two men."

Clinton, Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Capitol Police Chief Gary L. Abrecht reverently laid large floral wreaths at the flag-draped coffins of Chestnut and Gibson, who were slain four days ago stopping a gun-toting intruder inside the Capitol building. Since morning, thousands of hushed members of the public had filed past the caskets, which lay side by side, eight feet apart, in the center of the awe-inspiring hall beneath the Capitol's famous dome.

The Rotunda tribute for the two officers is a rare honor, usually reserved for presidents and military heroes. Chestnut and Gibson are only the 26th and 27th Americans to be so honored in a tradition that began after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The officers' bodies arrived in two black hearses shortly after 7 a.m. EDT Tuesday. A long line of people already had formed outside the Capitol, waiting to pay respects.
Officer John Gibson (AP)Officer Jacob Chestnut (AP)

All day people came to the rotunda, 2,000 an hour by police count.

At noon, hundreds of members of the House and Senate had their turn to pay respects, noiselessly standing eight deep around the plush red theater ropes surrounding the caskets. The Rotunda was temporarily closed to anyone but House and Senate members.

Spontaneously, a line of lawmakers formed to solemnly exchange sympathies with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, and Republican Whip Tom DeLay. It was in the offices of DeLay that the final bursts of Friday's shootout with an intruder occurred, and many colleagues had long, sad hugs for the Texan, his wife, Christine, and daughter Dani Ferro.

An honor guard of four Capitol Police colleagues, in deep blue ceremonial uniforms and white gloves, surrounded the caskets. They stood in an at-rest position, feet astride, hands folded in front of them and faces blank of expression.

The first person to pay his respects to the officers was Jeffrey Barrow, a 12-year-old Atlanta tourist who was at the Capitol Friday. "I feel sorry for them," he said. "They lost their lives to save ours, and the other people here at the Capitol on that tragic, Friday afternoon. So I'm proud, but unhappy."

The formal honors for Chestnut and Gibson began Monday when the House of Representatives and Senate approved a resolution lauding the two men "for the selfless acts of heroism they displayed on July 24, 1998, in sacrificing their lives in the line of duty so that others might live." Click here for a chronology of events.

The resolution also provides funeral expenses plus a gift equal to a year's salary to their wives and children, and authorizes a plaque in the officers' honor to be placed in the Capitol.

The roll call in the House was 392-0. The Senate - with nearly three-fourths of its members present - used a voice vote.

The House, where the two officers worked, dedicated its entire day to speeches saluting them. A parade of senators also spoke in their honor, though that chamber spent much of its day debating credit union legislation.

"They died doing their job. They died being professionals," said an emotional House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, for whom Gibson served as bodyguard.

A Weston ID Card (AP)
The alleged assailant in Friday's rampage, Russell E. Weston Jr., 41, continues to recover from wounds to his chest and elsewhere and faces further surgery at D.C. General Hospital. A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, he was charged preliminarily with killing a federal officer, which carries a possible death sentence. Additional charges were pending. Click here to find out more about the alleged gunman.

Aside from the two slain officers, a tourist, Angela Dickerson, 24, was wounded in the gun battle. She sustained wounds to the face and arm, and was released from the hospital on Saturday.

Chestnut and Gibson will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Chestnut is a 20-year Air Force veteran, and the Army approved Gibson's iterment there, after it was requested by Gingrich and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

Notes of condolence and contributions to a memorial fund for John Gibson and Jacob J. Chestnut can be sent to: U.S. Capitol Police Memorial Fund, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20515.