Former President Ronald Reagan has passed away, aged 93, at his home in California.
The first of what is sure to be extensive news coverage has begun:
Ronald Reagan, the cheerful crusader who devoted his presidency to winning the Cold War, trying to scale back government and making people believe it was “morning again in America,” died Saturday after a long twilight struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 93.
He died at his home in California, according to a family friend, who initially disclosed the death on condition of anonymity. The friend said the family has turned to making funeral arrangements. A formal statement from the family was expected later.
In Paris, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said President Bush was notified of Reagan’s death in Paris at about 4:10 p.m., EDT, by White House chief of staff Andy Card.
The United States flag over the White House was lowered to half staff within an hour.
Derided by his adversaries as glib, doctrinaire and uninformed — a mere actor, they scoffed — Reagan demonstrated throughout his political career the power that comes from being underestimated.
He won power by defeating overconfident Democratic incumbents — Gov. Pat Brown in California in 1966 and President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.
“It was said of Dwight Eisenhower (and could have been said of Ronald Reagan) that his smile was his philosophy,” wrote columnist George Will. And many Americans found Reagan’s smiling optimism appealing.
Reagan led a conservative revolution that set the economic and cultural tone of the 1980s, hastened the end of the Cold War and revitalized the Republican Party. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease since at least late 1994.
At least two of his children and his wife, Nancy, were at his bedside, according to the former president’s Los Angeles office.
Ron Reagan Jr. and Patty Davis — children from his current marriage to Nancy Davis Reagan — were with him, the office said.
Ronald Reagan, an infectiously optimistic president who forged an enduring relationship with the American people, dedicated his presidency to two goals — the destruction of Soviet communism abroad and the reduction of government at home. He lived to see the first achieved, if not the second.
Five years after he left office, he revealed, on Nov. 5, 1994, in a note in his own handwriting, that he was a victim of Alzheimer’s, a mind-crippling disease, and had begun the journey “into the sunset of my life.”
Through a lifetime in the public eye, Reagan demonstrated an uncommon ability to give voice to the innate patriotism of the American people. And, more than any other politician of his time, he had an affectionate, long-lasting relationship with his countrymen.
Personally, Reagan was the first President that I was really aware of. He was sworn into office when I was but seven years old – but I remember that day. I also remember the hostages from the Iranian Embassy returning home in the days that followed. I remember my mother coming to me in early 1981 to tell me that the President had been shot. And I remember watching the political conventions with my grandparents to see Reagan and others speak.
It’s a coincidence that Reagan’s speech at Pointe du Hoc twenty years ago today that ranks as one of his best:
We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied peoples joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine-guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only ninety could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor’…
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
RIP, President Reagan. Rest in Peace.