Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ronald Raygun

I watched a great documentary on Ronald Reagan last night on PBS. It was over two hours long and was riveting. I remember thinking, too bad he didn't show as much passion for the have-nots in his own country as he did for those same people he considered oppressed by the bear.

I forget where it's at on the album but somewhere on the Woodstock album Reagan in called Ronald "Ray gun" by some hippy musician. When I first heard that I was in high school and Reagan was president. I couldn't help wonder but what did Reagan do as governor to tick them off?

I mention all this because I got to see Ronald Reagan give a speech once. It was during the first Gulf War. I had gotten out of the Marines in July of 1990 and they called me back right before Desert Shield transformed into Desert Storm. It turns out they called too many of us back and they didn't need us anyway since the forces over there were able to handle the war.

Early on in our stay at Camp Pendleton, CA (I believe this was shortly before the war went hot) we were informed that former president Ronald Reagan was coming to give us a short talk. They rounded up a few hundred of us and we took seats in a small outdoor training amphitheater that was part of a smaller base called Camp Margarita. We sat around for about a half hour and then he appeared at the back of the theater and moved to the small stage at the front. He gave a short morale-boosting speech using a cheap PA system with a couple of speakers scattered in front of him. I don't remember any of what he said but I did finally see what all the fuss was about. He held your attention and he was believable. He was the kind of person you would follow. I do remember how strange it was to see this guy in person. He became president when I was 12 and he was more image than man to me. To see that he actually existed was unsettling.

After his speech he was given a gift of a floppy desert camouflaged recon hat by a couple of Marines. Reagan put the hat on and we all cheered. Yeah, I did too, goddammit. It was Reagan, fer chrissakes. What I remember best is the giant beeming smile that appeared on his face. He seemed to be truly honored to be treated so by a bunch of young Marines and it was...touching. He then stepped down and exited toward the back. As he passed up the aisle he handed out business cards with his signature on it and guys were reaching out to touch him like he was Michael Jackson and they were twelve-year-old girls. I stood on my bench and marvelled as this man passed within six feet of me.

What I have always wondered was how did this happen? Was he going around to bases in California giving these morale-boosting speeches or was it a happy accident that he happen to be near Camp Pendleton on that day and he wanted to talk to "the boys?" Does anyone know?

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