It's Friday, June 11, 2004.
This is a National Day of Mourning for the late Ronald W. Reagan
and it is drawing to a close. This evening at sundown President
Reagan's earthly remains will be laid to rest at the Reagan Library in
Simi Valley. But his spirit will live in our memories for a very long time.
Since his death last Saturday, television news broadcasters have
rehashed virtually all there is to say about President Reagan ... his
faults and political shortcomings. His humor and charm. His strengths
and political successes. On balance, the good far outweighs the bad.
That certainly is my view and here is why I feel that way.
Ronald Reagan did what any good leader must do. He inspired
his followers to reach beyond their limits. Reagan came to the White
House in 1981 at a time when our country was at a low ebb. His
predecessor in office, Jimmy Carter, called it a great malaise. We were
in the "cold war" with the Soviet Union and we had been for more than
30 years. In those days, there was a very real fear that some
miscalculation would plunge the world into a nuclear war --- "mutually
assured destruction," it was called then. The world held the United
States in very low esteem. Worse still, many Americans also held their
own country in low regard.
Then came Ronald Reagan. With his smile ... his innate sense of
optimism ... and his confidence that the American vision of a free
society was right for the world, he began to lift us out of that malaise.
On the day Reagan died, your Dad wrote to me from Korea;
"This is truly a sad day. In my opinion, we have recently lost two
of the greatest Americans that our nation has seen, Bob Hope and
Ronald Reagan. I am happy that I had the opportunity to vote for
President Reagan in 1984."
And I wrote back;
"You are precisely right when you equate Bob Hope and Ronald
Reagan with greatness.
Carolyn and I went to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley a couple
of years ago and spent the day. As you might suspect, many facets of
Reagan's life are presented in the displays there ... broadcaster, sports
lover, actor, statesman and loving human being.
While I was there I bought a book of Reagan's speeches ... mainly
ones written delivered AFTER his time in the White House. It includes
the handwritten letter to the nation telling that he had been stricken
with Alzheimer's Disease.
In the Reagan White House years ... mainly the early years ...
folks thought he was an "amiable dunce". Nothing could have been
further from the truth. He had great ideas and the courage to stand
firm in defense of them.
I have long felt that the main attribute that a President ... any
President ... should bring to the White House is the ability to inspire
noble ideals. There have been three such Presidents in the 20th
Century. FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan. In Great Britain, Winston
Churchill was such a leader.
Perhaps, it is appropriate that in the years to come the
anniversary of Ronald Reagan's passing will be bracketed by two other
momentous dates in history: The Battle of Midway on June 4th, 1942
and D-Day on June 6th, 1944."
As I told you much earlier in this book, the passing of John
Kennedy moved me to tears. He was a young man struck down in an
instant with a whole lifetime of potential achievements yet to unfold. In
the case of President Reagan, the potential had been realized. He had
accomplished all he ever would in this life.
And still there was a great sadness because in the end he couldn't
remember any of it and that's the pity. He died of Alzheimer's Disease,
the sneak thief disease that gradually and cruelly steals its victims away
from the world ... leaving behind only a shell waiting to die.
Your Grandma Carolyn and I have our cherished memories ...
nothing so heroic as those of the Reagans but precious to us
nonetheless. We each can appreciate how much Ronnie and Nancy
have lost in the twilight of life. And we can only hope that we can
share all our yesterdays for a long time to come.