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Monday, June 07, 2004

"I've Seen Many Tears Today in the Eyes of Big Strong Soldiers As We Watch the News Coverage of Reagan's Death"

U.S. Army Spc. Joe Roche has sent us an e-mail from Baghdad about President Ronald Reagan. I'm publishing the whole thing:
Dear Amy, my sergeants gave me time off from stuff because of Reagan's death. At first, I thought I'd just watch the news coverage. ...But maybe to ...deal with it, I wrote a letter below. Maybe you can use it. I don't know. Something like this, it just takes the wind out of my sails.

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Ronald Reagan was, is and always will be a great inspiration to me. I grew up watching him as president. I think that I have recordings of every speech and event he was a part of. All of my friends know this because my homes have always prominently displayed my best items and pictures of him. Center is always the official White House photo of President Reagan, signed by him.

I find that my fellow soldiers here in Iraq, the young ones, don't realize what a crisis the United States was in at the end of the 1970s. Economic malaise, social disorder, moral breakdown, and foreign disasters. America at the end of that decade was in acute crisis, having fallen back from the Vietnam War, the Watergate crisis, and a general total collapse of morale and spiritual respect. Our enemies in the world were on the march, and America was confused and apologetic for even being there, it seemed. Every president, since the previous generation ended by Eisenhower, had faced one calamity or another to end their leadership in the most cruel and destructive ways. Our military was in disarray, and Americans felt a real sense of defeatism.

Then came Ronald Reagan's presidency. It was only natural that he restored America's strength and self-confidence. One of my most favorite items from my Reagan collection is the full-length video of his 1964 speech on behalf on Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency. The themes that would dominate his leadership in the 1980s were said then with a force of energy and conviction that to me, at least, mirror what is good and virtuous in America.

Reagan was an optimist and a true believer in even the most difficult and worst times in American life. He always saw the virtue of action, he recognized the duty good people have to act, and he believed in the righteousness of American values, ideals and pursuits. He was a man who could give hope and inspiration to all of us even when that seemed most impossible.

His first term as president was a time of intense confrontation and crisis. Economic recession, an assassination attempt on his life and the Soviet Union waging scorched-earth warfare from Afghanistan to Laos to Angola to Nicaragua. Americans were being held hostage in the Middle East, and hundreds of our soldiers were killed in terrorist attacks. Europe began the decade under the ominous threat of the SS-20 missiles that the Soviets had deployed countering all defenses that the Free World had under NATO.

Reagan set out to respond to all this, to fight back and say, "enough!" to our enemies. He said in his first inaugural address, "I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing." By the end of that first term, he had set the pieces in motion. Despite massive anti-U.S./anti-Reagan demonstrations that engulfed all our allies in Europe, as well as intense anti-Reagan demonstrations all over the U.S. by the defeatists opposed to him, he had successfully deployed the Pershing II missiles to effectively respond to the SS-20 threat. Anti-Soviet resistance forces worldwide were beginning to fight back. Reagan was drawing the line in the clearest terms about the evil of the Soviet Union and the virtue of America's role in the world. Do you remember the deep freeze of that crisis period?

The Soviets shot down the Korean airliner, and their leadership was passing from one hard-liner to another. There were no summits, just confrontation. It was perhaps the most dangerous moment, when had things gone differently, the Cold War would have taken a new more destructive turn. Instead, Reagan was re-elected.

I remember my friend, Stacy Pusterino, in high school telling me in 1984 that, if Reagan were to be re-elected there will be a war that will end the world. Her defeatism was because so many people were so obsessed by the negatives and the fears in the world at that time that they could not accept nor even allow for the call to stand up and fight for what we stand for. Many Americans were fixated by the malaise and pessimism of the Watergate/Vietnam years, and simply rejected Reagan's optimism that said we can and must fight back and that we should do so proudly. I remember that period, 1983-1984. It was, I think, the most important moment of the 1980s, when the whole course of events could have been followed for the worse.

Instead, the American people put their hopes in this optimistic and visionary man and he was re-elected. That was the turning point, I believe. Reagan had only been able to lay down the lines to the challenges in his first term. It wasn't enough time to put the weight behind it all to make it firmly institutionalized as the American re-birth. With his re-election to a second term, the world realized that Reagan was representative of America's new resolve and that a full recovery into a full forward winning offensive had been launched that would last to victory. Had he been defeated that year, it would have seemed that Reagan was merely an aberration from our continued malaise. Instead, his re-election made all that Reagan stood for the American standard worldwide.

It was in that second term that all of our enemies worldwide began to retreat. Gorbachev initially was crushed by Reagan's angry resolve at the Reykjavik summit, but quickly realized that the only way to deal with Reagan was to respect that he was a man of true fundamental beliefs and that nothing was going to sway him away from them. The end of the Cold War thus was begun.

Reagan's final years as president were marked by his ceaseless and determined optimism and belief in America. He spoke of a very promising world ahead, and challenged all Americans, especially the young, to take up this hope and pursue every opportunity that comes our way. He repeated his message from 1964: "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope for man on earth." His inspiration has been with me every step of the way I've lived up to this day in Baghdad.

I don't think I would have left the very comfortable and leisurely life I had in Minneapolis to join the Army were it not for Reagan's inspiration. I had it good, but when I listened to my collection of his speeches, I felt the energy and conviction that he spoke of. Fate and destiny... these were things Reagan knew could be cruel and terribly difficult. Yet you will always see that in him, in his heart, Reagan truly believed in the justice and value of American pursuits.

He showed the American people his belief in God and his respect that our freedoms have been begotten because of virtuous morality in our society. In championing freedom, he taught that responsibility is greatest upon us who enjoy such freedom. We always have a duty to serve our beliefs and convictions. Less than that, we are throwing away the gift of freedom we have in America. Integrity in the law and commitment to free market capitalism are the bedrock to the American way. Reagan worked to restore this when he became president. Today's strong America owes much to him. It was his economic programs that brought on the growth that even Bill Clinton enjoyed and took undue credit for.

In this time of war, even more, I see the impact of Reagan everywhere. Our military is strong and successful because of the support and commitment Reagan gave it. Before he became president, our military was in disarray and crisis. Reagan restored it and gave it intense growth. Our leaders after him have slipped a bit, but mostly that growth is what is enabling us today to carry out the missions we are worldwide.

I think that nearly every soldier I have met, the older ones, admire and praise Ronald Reagan in the most glowing terms. My sergeants, the backbone of the military's enduring integrity, all speak most highly of him. Sometimes this surprises me because before I joined the Army I became accustomed to hearing so much defeatism on the part of many Americans.

Toby Keith and Ted Nugent were here in Baghdad yesterday performing for us soldiers. It was great! One thing Keith said, though, is sticking with me today: "It's no laughing matter when a soldier cries." I've seen many tears today in the eyes of big strong soldiers as we watch the news coverage of Reagan's death. I'm no stronger myself. I've often played Reagan's speeches out here with my fellow soldiers while on guard duty, and talked of him many times. He is still an inspiration.

Instead of feeling a loss for America in his death, we should endeavor to make those attributes of Reagan that were so good a part of our lives, and thereby renew our faith in ourselves and in our nation. His optimism and true belief in America is what we need to hold on to today. In fact, I see many parallels between his time as president and the period we are now living through. He always saw the virtue of action and recognized the duty good people have to act, and he believed in the righteousness of American values, ideals and pursuits. Grasp on to these Reaganesque qualities, and we will make today a good day for America.
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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 4:09 PM

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