Feb. 6, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. Looking at his newborn son, Jack Reagan remarked, "He looks like a fat little Dutchman. But who knows, he might grow up to be president someday."
From his earliest days, Ronald Reagan was a leader. His small town values, eloquence and charm were evident as an athlete, a lifeguard, a college class president, a sportscaster, and even as a Hollywood leading man.
Up until the early 1960s, Reagan had been a Democrat. But he came to see that the Democrat Party tended more and more toward a belief in big government and centralized authority. Reagan became a Republican and campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He gave a televised speech in which he spoke of limited government, economic freedom and peace through strength. Two years later, that message propelled Reagan into California's governor's mansion and, ultimately, into the White House.
I met Ronald Reagan in 1972 at the Republican Convention in Miami Beach, Fla. I was one of a few dozen Young Republican volunteers. Our grumpy handler was soon-to-be Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman.
Reagan arrived in a summer suit, looking cool and comfortable in the 100-plus degree heat. He spoke briefly, we presented him with a T-shirt, and then he said: "It's not every day I get the opportunity to meet young people from all over the country, I'd love to take some questions."
Reagan began responding to our questions about the Vietnam War and about the anti-war riots raging outside the convention. Two, three, four questions, and hands kept popping up.
Ehrlichman stepped forward, looked impatiently at his watch, and said, "OK, last question."
Reagan snapped his head to the side and said, "John, do you have someplace you need to be?" "Well, er, yes ..." "Then why don't you go there," Reagan replied.
The governor asked us if there was someplace we needed to go (there wasn't). He took off his jacket and invited us to gather around on the ground. For the next hour, Ronald Reagan talked to us one-on-one about his vision of America. He warned us about the dangers of communism and all forms of totalitarianism. He spoke passionately about the virtues of economic liberty and freedom. He made clear his deep and abiding faith in mankind. And he told us we were the future and it was our responsibility to keep the torch of liberty alive.
I had the honor to serve in the U.S. Navy during the eight years of Ronald Reagan's presidency. I watched him inspire a renewed spirit of patriotism and pride in our armed forces. He transformed the long twilight struggle of the Cold War into the triumph of freedom around the world. The greatest honor of my military career was to be able to call that kind and extraordinary human being my commander-in-chief.
And what a thrill it was to join Nancy Reagan on July 23, 2004 at Naval Air Station North Island in welcoming the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) to her new homeport of San Diego. I was really touched when Mrs. Reagan told the thousands of uniformed men and women manning the rails, "I know my husband would want you to represent the best that this nation has to offer -- democracy, liberty and an abiding optimism for the future."
Ronald Reagan wanted peace, prosperity, and, above all, freedom for our country. But the greatest legacy of our "Great Communicator" was his eternal optimism. As dark as things seem at times, he believed that what is right will always eventually triumph. For Ronald Reagan, America remains a shining city on a hill whose greatest chapter is still to be written, for the best is yet to come.
Happy 100th birthday, President Reagan!
Giorgino is a retired Navy Surface Warfare Commander who lives in Coronado and practices law in San Diego. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.