I had recently moved to Los Angeles when the nation received the news in early June of 2004 that former President Ronald Reagan’s health was rapidly declining. In true LA fashion, helicopters began flying overhead and news trucks zipped near my apartment on the West Side. I knew Reagan’s home was fairly close by, but until that day, I didn’t realize how close: a mere two miles away.
When news came of Reagan’s death, the outpouring of support in Southern California was immediate and phenomenal. People stood in mile-long lines, lasting many hours, to board shuttles to his Presidential Library in Simi Valley just north of LA in order to view his casket. I recall riding back on the shuttle from the Library after the viewing (one of over 105,000 who did so during the course of 3 days) just as the beautiful western sky was turning to dusk. As we crossed over the Ronald Reagan Freeway, there were cars lined up along the side of the road with their headlights on, for as far as the eye could see, trying to get off at the Library’s exit. It was like something right out of the end of Field of Dreams (which was the released the year Ronald Reagan left office, incidentally).
A similar outpouring happened in Washington, DC, where again over 100,000 viewed his casket. On the day of his funeral (which was this week eight years ago) hundreds of thousands more lined the procession in Washington and in Southern California. As Field of Dreams’ character Terrance Mann, played by James Earl Jones, would say, “People most definitely came.”
This public display of adoration and respect was a reflection of what Americans thought of the 40th President. Seemingly unfathomable in today’s political climate, Reagan won his 1984 reelection with 49 of 50 states, topping his 1980 landslide of 44 states. Neither number has been matched since. He sold me, when I was 13 years old: I spoke in support of him at an all-school assembly, and I’m happy to report he won that election far-and-away too. Later, I was thrilled when President Reagan came to speak at West Point, while I was a cadet there.