I had two brief meetings with Ronald Reagan plus I was intrigued with his management style, his genuine regard for the American public and his resolve to best the communist “Evil Empire.” I admired the talent that he exhibited as the Great Communicator and was pleased to learn over the years from various sources that although he had good speech writers, it was Ronald Reagan speaking - a superb politician with the heart of a Midwestern boy. He left his mark. I share my remembrance of “The Gipper” with you - Bill Thompson.
I Remember Ronald Reagan
By Bill Thompson, June 2004.
Rear Admiral William Thompson, U.S. Navy (Ret) is a former Navy Chief of Information, and current President Emeritus of the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, Washington, D.C. - for which he was the principal catalyst for its fund raising, founding and guidance through its initial years of development and growth.
I remember Ronald Reagan - Admiral E. R. (Bud) Zumwalt, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations, Governor Reagan, his aide and myself (then serving as Chief of Information for the Navy Department).
After some pleasantries, the governor asked the CNO how the current U.S. Navy stacked up with the Soviet navy, Admiral Zumwalt's favorite subject. The “Z” presented his usual outstanding descriptions of the two navies. He pointed out the rapid increase in the strength of the Soviet Navy. Their ships, aircraft and submarines were good and formidable and they are far ahead of us in cruise missiles. Our ships are being run ragged in the Vietnam War. He concluded that if the two were ever stood up face to face in a war at sea, the USN would have a less than 50% chance of winning.
Reagan was startled and said that was a strong statement coming from the CNO. Why hadn't he ever heard that before? Bud Zumwalt turned to me and said, “Bill, you are on stage.” That was also a surprise but I explained that Admiral Zumwalt was answering a question and that we thought in his situation, his position, he should reply honestly. Whenever we included such information in a speech, the Defense Department deleted it in the clearance process. When I asked for a reason, it was always, “That's policy.” When pressed farther, it was revealed that “The White House dictates that policy.”
I added that it was not for me to question the President and for various reasons, did not want to provoke a public discussion of the matter. However, we felt that is something the public should know about.
The luncheon ended with the governor being rather quiet but thanking ADM Zumwalt for the lunch and the disturbing information.
I remember Ronald Reagan - Heritage Center that we named The Presidents Room.
At the time, during the 80s and his tenure in the White House, six of the last seven US Presidents had been naval officers, a fact I liked to point out anytime I talked of the Presidents¹ Room. The room honors eight presidents who had been Assistant Secretaries of the Navy: JFK, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and George Bush (41). I often recited the “6 of last 7” parable and added that President Reagan, who, although having served in the Army Air Corps, acted in so many Navy related movies that he may have thought of himself as a Navy veteran. He deployed naval forces at Grenada in 1983 and at Libya in 1986 and was listed as one of the many U.S. Presidents whose first response to a national alert was “Where are the carriers?”
I remember Ronald Reagan - Actions as the country¹s First Administrative Officer.
He surrounded himself with competent, dedicated and loyal people and delegated authority and responsibility, and was confident that they would perform. That freed him to roam the White House and have two, sometimes, three-hour luncheons with California or Hollywood friends. This gave some media personnel something to comment about on slow news days.
I remember Ronald Reagan - Usually directed to his good humor and optimistic outlook.
John Cosgrove, our Chairman of the Navy Memorial dedication committee and I called on President Reagan in 1987 to present him with a 24-inch replica of the Lone Sailor statue, the principal piece of statuary at the Navy Memorial. At the presentation, I stated that the Lone Sailor represents all Navy veterans, officer and enlisted, male or female for the past 210 years of US naval history. The president thanked me and said, “It is always nice to know someone older than I am.”
That statue continues to reside in the White House, stationed at the entrance to the White House Mess (dinning rooms). The Navy provides the personnel who operate the White House Mess.
Finally, I remember Ronald Reagan - Letters he personally responded, each in his own hand writing, to the many who wrote to him.
He was truly The Great Communicator. He believed strongly in the values of freedom and the standards to which our country’s fathers ascribed our Revolution and founding years. I admired his resolve and fortitude in identifying the benefits garnered by our country in the process of détente. His assessment was that it was “Advantage Soviet Union.”
His identification of the USSR as the “Evil Empire” was not only gutsy but also profound. His speech in 1987 in Berlin beseeching the Soviet Union’s leader, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” was daring and prophetic.
Success founds many fathers and in the case of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the symbolic crumbling of the Wall in 1989 warrants multi-fatherhood, but Ronald Reagan should be identified with the distinction of the event.
The U.S. Navy saw fit to name a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS RONALD W. REAGAN (CVN 76) which will serve as a source of pride and motivation to those personnel who serve in it as well as with it in its Battle Group.
USS REAGAN should serve at least another 40-50 years and be a resource radiating the resolve of our nation..