A lot of eyes will be focused on the Capitol steps today as George W. Bush raises his right hand and takes the oath of office as President of the United States. It is an unforgettable moment for the Bush family, one that will remain locked in their memories for the rest of their lives.
In my own case, my father’s first inauguration on January 20, 1981 is a memory I will cherish, one of those experiences only a tiny number of people in all our history have been privileged to enjoy, and watching today’s ceremonies and festivities will bring every moment of that day back into sharp focus.
To have been an intimate participant in this majestic ceremony celebrating the American people’s triumphant observance of their ability to choose their own president is to have celebrated, close up and personal, a civic rite that has proclaimed for over two centuries the triumph of freedom over tyranny.
When I woke up that morning my first thought was to find some souvenir that would mark that momentous day. When I got out of bed I wandered out into the hallway and walked down to my father’s and Nancy’s bedroom, looking for something. On every door there was a name tag identifying the occupant of the room. On my dad’s door the tag read “President-elect Ronald Reagan.” I had found my souvenir.
The night before, my wife Colleen and I – along with some friends – had dinner at Blair House, where we were staying and where we had been given a tour of that splendid mansion crammed full of priceless antiques and mementos of the nation’s history.
I asked the curator if this was where we would stay when we came to Washington to visit my dad, and he shook his head and said “no,” and pointed across the street at the White House. He said “That’s where you’ll stay, and if you think Blair House is beautiful wait until you see that place. Once you’ve been over there you won’t want to come back here.” He was right.
My father had chosen to break tradition and have the swearing-in ceremony on the West front of the Capitol instead of the East front. When I stood with my father on the podium on West front I understood. The view down the mall was superb, far better than the view of a huge parking lot on the other side.
It was a gray overcast day, but when my dad stepped to the podium to be sworn in, the sun suddenly burst out of the clouds. As we turned to go inside, the doorman said to me and Colleen and my son Cameron, “Enjoy today. It’s your day.”
During the inaugural parade my father kept updating us on the whereabouts of the hostages as they left captivity in Iran and started their journey home. As I listened I kept my eyes on five-star General Omar Bradley, who was sitting in a corner of the reviewing booth in his wheelchair. During the course of that long parade General Bradley never missed saluting each flag as it was carried by – as every flag went by his right hand went up, and he saluted each and every one of the hundreds of flags that passed in front of us.
That night Colleen and I were the host and hostess of the first inaugural ball at the Washington Hilton, where my father and Nancy would attend. Ironically it was the hotel where he was shot just a few weeks later.
When my dad and Nancy arrived, we went into a private room and Dad went over to the mirror to straighten out his tie. Then he turned around, suddenly jumped straight up in the air and clicked his heels together like a dancer in a Hollywood musical and proclaimed “I’m the president of the United States of America.” After all of the campaigning, all of the pressure, he could now finally enjoy the moment.
When we went out to greet the guests, my moment to enjoy was the honor of being the first person that night to introduce Ronald Reagan as the president of the United States.
©2005 Mike Reagan. You must contact us if you would like to print this column in your publication or post on the internet. Mike’s column is distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Cari Dawson Bartley Cari@cagle.com, (800) 696-7561