Archive for February, 2011

Reagan’s 100th

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

I only saw Ronald Reagan in person once. It was an event for Republican U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton in 1986 in Alabama.  Denton, a former Vietnam POW and retired Navy Admiral, had become the first Republican Senator elected from Alabama since Reconstruction in 1980. He had become a strong ally in the Senate for Reagan’s foreign policy agenda as we fought the Cold War against Communism around the world. But 1986 was a bad year for Republicans, Denton lost to Democratic Congressman Richard Shelby. Of the more than 1.2 million votes cast, the margin of difference was fewer than 7000 votes.  Shelby became a Republican himself in 1994 and continues to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate.

On that day in 1986, I was eleven years old and I recall the civic center packed full with thousands of people and very far away down on the floor, a man walked out on the stage with his hand in the air to thunderous cheers and applause. He was the third President during my life time but the only one of which I had any real awareness. I viewed him as a serious man determined to protect America and willing to give the dangerous orders to do so.  Just months before, he had ordered Operation El Dorado Canyon - airstrikes against targets in Libya in response to a bombing in West Berlin that killed two American servicemen carried out by Libyan agents in East Germany.

I remember thinking as President Reagan spoke to the crowd that I would always remember it.  The image in my mind is as clear as a photograph. I never saw him again in person. On June 9, 2005 I watched an honor guard carry his casket into the U.S. Capitol and later, along with thousands of others, paid my respect while he was lying in state. But he had been gone for some time in that long goodbye of Alzheimer’s disease. I remember an interview with Michael Reagan - Ronald’s adopted son - some years ago when Michael was asked if his father still recognized him. Michael said his father didn’t know who he was, but he did know he was the person who came to give him hugs.

As America celebrates this occasion in articles, tributes from friends, online posts, and television news specials, there is nothing more I can add.  His speeches of American optimism, his policies of American conservatism, his actions of American exceptionalism are etched into our history and the spirit of a generation. We recognize today as the 100th anniversary of his birth, but he long ago gave us the birthday gift of his leadership and that legacy continues to grow in value over time.

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