By Brandon Lowrey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At a ceremony commemorating the late U.S. President Richard M. Nixon's 100th birthday, politicians, a military official and Nixon's eldest daughter on Sunday remembered him as an underappreciated president and a foreign policy genius.
Nixon, the Cold War-era Republican stalwart who opened U.S. relations with communist China, was the only American president to resign from office, leaving the White House in disgrace over the Watergate scandal.
"He looked at (the world) as a world with 200 countries and 200 leaders, and he studied every one of those leaders, and he knew most of them," said Bruce Herschensohn, a friend and speech writer for Nixon who delivered the keynote address. "It's a talent that I have never seen equaled."
The 37th president died in 1994 at age 81.
During Sunday's ceremony, the Watergate scandal was not mentioned.
"To me, there's nothing to mention," Herschensohn said after the speech. "That doesn't make (the Watergate scandal) right, but that's the way Washington operated."
He said he wishes that people would people would view Nixon in the context of his entire legacy.
Along with Herschensohn, California Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican, and U.S. Marine Corps General Melvin Spiese spoke to a crowd of hundreds at the official Nixon library run by the Richard Nixon Foundation and the National Archives in Yorba Linda, California - his birthplace.
The three told stories about Nixon's achievements in China and his moves to end the Vietnam War.
A squadron of U.S. fighter jets flew over the ceremony to a roar of applause. Honors to the late president also included musical presentations by a U.S. Marine band and a 21-gun salute.
Afterward, Nixon's eldest daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, laid a White House wreath from President Barack Obama during a brief and quiet ceremony.
She then spoke with reporters, including a camera crew from a Chinese news agency.
"I think in 100 years, people will remember he was a good man. A decent man," Nixon Cox said. She said she believes his true legacy, often obscured by the Watergate scandal, is one of promoting freedom and of reaching out to a nation that was once an enemy of the United States.
The Richard Nixon Foundation has planned more events throughout the year to observe the late president's complicated legacy.
(Reporting by Brandon Lowrey; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Osterman)