August 04, 2018

Photo Essay: The Final Resting Place For Ronald Reagan and His Presidential Artifacts

I've been thinking a lot about Ronald Reagan lately.

Our 40th U.S. President was elected in 1980 when I was only five years old—so, although I was aware of the existence of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, it was Reagan who really served as my first president when I was old enough to understand what that meant.

Besides, living in California for the last seven and a half years, it's been nearly impossible to avoid any mention of the former governor, who presided over the state for two terms (1967-1975).

Leave it to California to elect a Hollywood actor who previously served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Of course, there are plenty of places to experience a slice of Reagan's life in California—whether at the church where he married his first wife, the social club he joined while still governor, the retreat where he celebrated New Year's as president, or the ranches where he and Nancy spent their days and nights (including Rancho del Cielo in the Santa Ynez Mountains and Reagan Ranch in Malibu Creek State Park).

But the ultimate destination for anyone looking to learn more about Reagan's U.S. presidency—regardless of party affiliation—is the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, appropriately off the Ronald Reagan Freeway (a.k.a. the 118).

I'd known about it for years and had always meant to go, but two key factors finally compelled me to make the drive to Simi Valley: 1) witnessing yet another Republican celebrity get elected to office and 2) traveling to Cold War-era countries (Hungary, Cuba and Ukraine).

Both factors of course, are closely tied to Russia. But for now, I prefer to focus on the latter—I think I actually might be able to wrap my head around what happened during the Cold War if I keep traveling and learning.

Getting USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall"—the wall that separated East from West far beyond Berlin, the city in which it was built, and the wall whose graffitied fragments can be found throughout SoCal—was seen as godsend, a peacemaking gesture of diplomacy that would unite us all. It certainly seemed that way at the time, a victory over an "evil empire."

But if you were to ask certain Russians of political and economic power today, the fall of the Soviet Union was only temporary. Sure, countries like Ukraine gained their independence, for a time. But you could argue that the events that occurred between the U.S. and USSR during Reagan's presidency directly or indirectly gave us Putin. And Putin would like nothing more than to get the band back together. He's already started trying, by reclaiming Crimea and encroaching on the eastern border of Ukraine, militarizing ethnic Russians and Russian sympathizers.

Reagan was so likable that I wonder if he had too soft a touch—which was exactly the criticism of #39, President Carter. (I might argue the same for #44, Barack Obama.)

His rhetoric was all about the "American Dream" and a certain updated version of Manifest Destiny—which boosted both our morale and our economy.

When Reagan armed Iranians in exchange for the release of American hostages, he basically responded that he hadn't realized—or that he hadn't meant to. It was an "Oops, I'm sorry" rather than "I did what I had to do."

But even for such a charismatic and beloved president, there were secret dealings and dark matters. There always are. But in Reagan's case, the rhetoric was good.

One of the highlights of visiting the Reagan library is being able to board Air Force One, a Boeing 707, C-137C aircraft (tail #27000) that's on loan from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Not only does it a decommissioned Presidential Emergency Satchel ("The Football"), created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it also shows a slice of what life was like in "The Flying White House." From charmingly outdated means of communication—like the typewriter used by Reagan's speechwriter—to photographs of Ron and his team and anecdotes about the pranks he used to play on his fellow travelers (word has it you never wanted to fall asleep around him), you get to feel like you've flown alongside Reagan, who logged the most air miles in this plane that served Presidents Nixon through George W. Bush.

Also in the Air Force One Pavilion is one of Reagan's presidential limousines (replete with a license plate bearing his nickname, "The Gipper")...

...Secret Service Suburbans...

...and other vehicles from the presidential motorcades of the era.

Outside, after walking through the reproduction of the South Lawn of the White House...

...I headed over to the Memorial Site, where I paid my respects to both Ron (who died in 2004) and Nancy (d. 2016), both interred there.

Though Ronald Reagan never felt like "my" president (Obama was the first one I got to vote for who actually won), I take heart in some of the words that made "The Great Communicator" so popular:

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."
"I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Presidential Retreat in Palm Springs
Open Letter to Our New President

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