Forever grateful

Posted: Jun 07, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Ronald Reagan was easily the greatest president of my lifetime -- and he will be regarded as one of the greatest leaders this country has ever had. He knew who he was, who we are as a people, and had an enthusiasm -- a great confidence for the innate goodness of this nation. Some describe him as an incurable optimist and maybe he was -- but that's not so bad -- because he inspired a remarkable passion for all that America was and could be.

 Throughout the five years that I was blessed to serve in his administration, he impressed me -- and everyone around him -- as a man of extraordinary vision, great compassion and resolute leadership.

 I was privileged to meet with him in the midst of some of the most challenging crises of the 1980s: Grenada, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, the effort to stem the spread of communism in Central America, the raid on Qaddafi's terror bases in Libya and the explosion of jihadist terror attacks against Americans and our way of life. In every case, he sought the advice of his closest confidants, pressed them for recommendations and made tough, principled decisions rather than choosing more expedient courses of action.

 The most moving recollection I have of him is an event that is related by his son Michael in the book he wrote about his dad:

 In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers, President Reagan flew to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. After the ceremony, the President and Mrs. Reagan were greeting the families of those who had been killed and wounded when a little boy about four or five years old looked up at the President and said, 'Mr. President, can you bring my daddy home?'

 Lesser men might have gone on by or ignored the youngster -- but not Ronald Reagan. The president reached down, picked up and hugged the child whose father would never come home. With tears flowing down his cheeks, the president said to the little boy, 'I wish I could.' That was no act -- it was the raw emotion of a president who felt great compassion for that little boy and the sacrifice his father had made on behalf of this nation.

 In the history books, his greatest contributions will be recognized as inspiring a generation of Americans to a cause -- 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' And in forging relationships with other great leaders to accomplish that goal: Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and the anti-communist leaders in Central America. He brought down the Evil Empire and made the world safer for my children and theirs. For that, I shall be forever grateful for his leadership.