Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate who died Monday at the age of 92, paid his final visit to his beloved Senate Thursday, lying in repose for six hours in the Senate chamber.
This was the first time a late senator's body had lain in repose since 1959, the year Byrd joined the Senate. While many notable lawmakers and presidents have been officially commemorated on the Senate floor, only two other senators have lain in repose in the Capitol -- North Dakota Republican William "Wild Bill" Langer, an anti-communist who was one of two senators to vote against the United Nations charter; and Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1957, also a staunch anti-communist.
In a somber ceremony, a military honor guard escorted the casket Thursday morning to the Capitol for a memorial service attended by family, friends and members of Congress.
The Senate was a "place where he ruled and, you know, had all of his great moments. So it was very somber and that's the way it should have been," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the second Democratic senator from West Virginia.
In his 51 years in the Senate, Byrd became famous for his fiery speeches and his love of Congress. The Democratic senator cast more than 18,600 votes -- more than any other senator to date.
Delivering a tribute on the Senate floor following Byrd's 18,000th vote, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, reminded people of the longevity of Byrd's career: "To help put the length of his service in perspective, consider a few facts: When Sen. Byrd cast his first vote in the Senate -- on Jan. 8, 1959 -- his colleagues included Sens. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Vice President Richard Nixon was the presiding officer. Hawaii was not yet a state. And a state-of-the-art computer would have taken up half of the space of this chamber, and had roughly the same amount of computing power as a Palm Pilot."
Byrd's body was taken to West Virginia for a Friday memorial service that both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend.
"He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors," the president said in a statement Monday.
Biden remembered Byrd as a "tough, compassionate, and outspoken leader."
"We shall not see his like again," Biden said Monday. "And the Senate is a lesser place for his going."
Famed for his informed, often lengthy speeches on the floor of the Senate, Byrd's admirers praised his mastery of governmental procedure, historical knowledge and candor -- often calling him the "conscience of the Senate."
The oustpoken senator always carried a copy of the Constitution and often pulled it out in one of his fiery speeches on the Senate floor. But what set him apart from other senators was that "he could put it back in his pocket and recite it verbatim, the whole Constitution," recalled Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin declared Friday a holiday for state government employees to commemorate the longtime senator who helped bring millions of dollars into his state. A public memorial service is scheduled for Friday morning at the state Capitol.
Private services will be held Tuesday at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, where Byrd will be buried with his wife, Erma, who died in 2006 after almost 69 years of marriage.