This coming Sunday marks the first anniversary of my father’s death, and I will mark it by visiting the aircraft carrier that bears his name, USS Ronald Reagan. At 8:00 a.m., with Captain Jim Symonds and the crew, I will lay a wreath in honor of my dad.
As I get ready for that ceremony I think back over the past year and what I’ve learned as I traveled all across America on speaking engagements to different organizations and listened to thousands and thousands of my fellow Americans express their love and admiration for Ronald Reagan.
As they shared with me their favorite Ronald Reagan stories or their favorite Ronald Reagan moments, I began to understand the reason why those vast crowds took the time last year to stand outside for hours upon hours just to be able to walk past my father’s casket for a brief moment, whether it was at the Ronald Reagan Library at Simi Valley, Calif., or back in Washington at the Rotunda where he lay in state.
I have been able to spend time with Mikhail Gorbachev, who sat behind my daughter Ashley and my son Cameron at my dad’s funeral in the National Cathedral. I spent moments with Lady Margaret Thatcher, my dad’s staunch Cold War ally, and spoke with her about the accomplishments of the 1980s, when the two of them faced down an aggressive Soviet Union as it had never been faced down before.
I was pleased to hear that both of them also fondly recalled their own favorite Ronald Reagan stories and memories, just as had all of those Americans I’ve met over the past year.
To be able to hear all of these things is what has given me strength and helped me to get through this first year in my life that I haven’t been able to go up to his home and spend time with my dad. But the fact that I can no longer be with him at his home does not mean that I haven’t been able to visit him. I can visit him by going to the Ronald Reagan Library and standing by his burial site. I feel that I can be with him there.
I believe that I also visit with him when I see the twinkle in people’s eyes that I always saw in his eyes, and to savor their hugs that remind me of the times when I hugged my dad and he hugged me. I speak about those hugs as I travel around the nation, and I’m overjoyed when people come up to me afterwards and reach out to hug me.
All this has empowered me to be out as much as I can to learn more about my father’s impact on America, to learn more about this great nation, and in the process, learn more about myself.
The other day I heard historian Douglas Brinkley speak about my dad’s speech at Pont du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day – the speech about the heroic “Boys of Pont du Hoc,” the handful of courageous Rangers who did the impossible on D-Day.
Speaking of them he recalled “At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. … The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers on the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades.” They began to climb,” he said “When one Ranger fell, another would take his place.” One by one, they “pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the Continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only 90 could still bear arms.”
With tears glistening in his eye, Ronald Reagan spoke the words that Douglas Brinkley said sparked a resurgence of patriotism that still burns in the hearts of Americans today.
It is memories such as that which I find lingering in the hearts of my fellow Americans as I travel across the nation, and I cherish learning anew that people still love my father because they know how much he loved them.
©2005 Mike Reagan. If you’re not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or web post this column. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561