WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The pageantry of the moment was awe inspiring. The response of the American people was unforgettable. On Constitution Avenue, just south of the home he occupied for eight years, tens of thousands of Americans watched in reverent silence as the flag-draped casket bearing the former president was placed on the horse-drawn caisson. Hundreds of thousands more waited patiently, first in California, then in Washington and again at the Reagan Presidential Library, just for a chance to spend a moment near him. It was a farewell tribute worthy of a great leader. And it stunned most of the media.
As I watched the long procession up to the Capitol and the ceremonies thereafter, I was struck by the overwhelming outpouring of genuine respect that the citizens of this country demonstrated toward a man who left office more than 15 years ago. And I was dismayed that many of those in the media who sought to explain this admiration still don't get it. But then, they never really understood Ronald Reagan while he was alive.
Some have said and written that it was his "infectious, incurable optimism," his "amiable personality" and his "self-confidence" that brought him success. But that ignores Ronald Reagan's humility and faith as the foundations of his assurance. It also discounts his resolve and steadfastness in the face of adversity and disappointment.
Others tell us that he owes his acclaim to "winning the Cold War without firing a shot." But Ronald Reagan knew that the long struggle against communism was anything but "cold" to those who fought and died in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and dozens of other bloody battlefields.
Several have attempted to attribute his triumphs to rhetorical skills perfected as an actor while simultaneously "informing" us that he wasn't a very good actor.
All their explanations fall short because they don't want to -- or can't -- acknowledge the full measure of the giant who now has passed from our midst. The Ronald Reagan I knew was much more than just a "Great Communicator."
He was a man who knew himself -- his own gifts and liabilities -- and who we are as a people. He believed that Americans are innately decent -- not perfect -- but good, and that we could be inspired to do better. While he delivered memorable, passionate speeches, some of his most magnificent moments weren't "performances" delivered before crowds or cameras, but in the hushed confines of the Oval Office, in the Situation Room, in private dialogue and in heartwarming letters he drafted himself.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.