February 6, 1911: Birth of Ronald Reagan

Born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan and his family moved many times during his childhood.  In December 1920, when he was nine years old, they rented a house on Hennepin Avenue in Dixon.  Reagan remembered raising rabbits in the back yard with his older brother Neil. “All of us have to have a place we go back to.  Dixon is that place for me.  There was the life that has shaped my body and mind for all the years to come.”

Ronald_Reagan YoungHis father, Jack Reagan, was a shoe salesman who scraped and scrapped so his family could get by. Always looking for a new pot of gold, he uprooted the family at every turn. Throughout young “Dutch” Reagan’s childhood, his family never owned a home.

In one of these moves Ronald had a kind of epiphany. The lonely boy ventured to the attic of his latest home. The previous tenant left behind a collection of bird’s eggs and butterflies enclosed in glass. The curious first-grader escaped into the attic for hours at a time, marveling at the eggs’ rich colors and the intricate wings of the butterflies. “The experience,” Reagan remembered, “left me with a reverence for the handiwork of God that never left me.”

But life was not simple or easy. One cold February evening in 1922 11-year-old Ronald returned home from a basketball game at the YMCA, expecting to arrive to an empty house. Instead, he was stunned by the sight of his father sprawled out in the snow on the front porch. “He was drunk,” his son later remembered. “Dead to the world … crucified.” His father’s hair was soaked with melted snow, matted unevenly against the side of his reddened face. The smell of whiskey emanated from his mouth.

“Dutch” Reagan wanted to simply let himself in the door and pretend his dad wasn’t there. Instead,  he stood over his father for a minute or two, and then grabbed a fistful of overcoat and hauled his father into the bedroom, away from the weather’s harm and neighbors’ attention.

The event shook the young Reagan, but he felt no resentment, just grief. And he never forgot it. This, after all, was the man who had always carried him.

Four months later he was baptized at his mom’s church.

October 8, 1981: Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Ford, and Carter share a drink at the White House

October 8, 1981:  Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Ford, and Carter share a drink at the White House

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981. President Reagan, who had survived his own assassination attempt just six months earlier, decided the risk was too great for him to attend Sadat’s funeral. Instead he asked the three former presidents to serve as the American delegation.

The New York Times reported their gathering before embarking on their mission:

The former Presidents, along with Mr. Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, arrived at the White House at 6:52 P.M. They were met by Mr. and Mrs. Reagan and by several hundred White House employees who burst into applause as Mr. Carter stepped from the helicopter with a salute to the Marine guard. The applause mounted when Mr. Ford and finally Mr. Nixon deplaned, as each of them had many times in their Presidencies.

Over cocktails in the Blue Room, according to a White House spokesman, Mr. Ford and Mr. Nixon told Mr. Reagan that he was wise not to go to Cairo.

Mr. Reagan, lifting his glass in a toast to his three predecessors, said, ”Ordinarily, I would wish you happy landing, but you’re all Navy
men so I wish you bon voyage.”

4 presidents

Standing in a circle that also included Vice President Bush, the five men talked of Mr. Sadat and paid tribute to his memory. Later, just after darkness fell, they returned to the South Lawn, followed by Mrs. Carter in a dark raincoat and Mrs. Reagan in a bright red one.

As the former Presidents listened in silence, Mr. Reagan thanked them for undertaking the mission of representing the United States at the funeral, then spoke again of Mr. Sadat. At the end of the tribute, Mr. Reagan’s eyes appeared to glisten with tears. ”Anwar Sadat, a man of peace in a time of violence, understood his age,” Mr. Reagan said. ”In his final moments, he, as he had all during his days, stood in defiance of the enemies of peace, the enemies of humanity.”

Then, addressing those he called enemies of peace ”who rejoice in the death of Anwar Sadat,” Mr. Reagan added: ”In life, you feared Anwar Sadat, but in death you must fear him more. For the memory of this good and brave man will vanquish you. The meaning of his life and the cause for which he stood will endure and triumph.”

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.