updated 11/29/2004 5:02:30 PM ET 2004-11-29T22:02:30

Guest: Bob Colacello, Jon Meacham, Gary Sinise, Bob Sullivan, Genevieve King, Mary Bosveld

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, historic partnerships that helped shape America.  We‘ll take an intimate look inside the marriage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. 

Plus, two towering figures who together saved the democratic world. 

Franklin Roosevelt and, my hero, Winston Churchill.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.

The stars must have been aligned in both Hollywood and Washington when Ronald Reagan proposed to the love of his life, Nancy.  “Vanity Fair‘s” Bob Colacello‘s new book, “Ronnie and Nancy,” chronicles the Reagan marriage and their path to the power of the presidency. 

And Bob joins us now from New York. 

Bob, thank you for joining us.  This book is being taken very seriously.  Why do you think?  It‘s not being seen as a coffee-table book or the usual kind of love-story book.  Why is it pack so much unexpected power, do you think?

BOB COLACELLO, AUTHOR OF “RONNIE AND NANCY”:  Well, I put six years into researching this book, and I‘ve had the unprecedented cooperation from Nancy Reagan, who gave me access to her papers, her closest friends, her brother, who has never spoken before.

And I really show how this was a love affair that changed the course of history.  We‘re not just talking about, you know, a romance.  It‘s really—Nancy Reagan really had a lot to do with Ronald Reagan becoming governor of California and president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, marriages are always interesting, because at their best one person adds something that the other person needs to be himself or herself.  In other words, the partner helps you become your self. 

And that‘s certainly true in my marriage, for totally different reasons than this one.  Let me ask you this:  What did Nancy bring to Ronald Reagan he wouldn‘t have had himself to start with that he needed to become the Ronald Reagan he became?

COLACELLO:  I think she brought an ability to actually discriminate amongst people with very important—she was kind of the personnel director of Ronald Reagan‘s operation.  He liked everyone.  He got along with everyone.  He would never want to fire anybody. 

Nancy was sort of the bad cop.  She was the strong one.  She was the one who said, “This is a good guy for you, Ronnie.  This is not such a good guy for you, Ronnie.” 

She also put together this whole group of rich friends who became his

·         their social set became his political, you know, political backers, the so-called kitchen cabinet in Southern California.  She was really...

MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of times men end up having as their friends their wives‘ best friends‘ husbands. 

COLACELLO:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that the case here, and how does it differ from the normal case where that tends to happen?

COLACELLO:  Well, I think it was more, in their case, it was more thought-out.  I mean, one of her close friends said Nancy cherry-picked her friends. 

When they got married, they were both basically out-of-work actors.  She realized he was not going anyplace more in Hollywood, and she knew his passion was politics.  So she started choosing friends in Los Angeles social circles who had husbands who were powers in the Republican Party.  She really, I think, set everything up for him in that regard. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a couple of personnel decisions.  I‘ll follow your line.  I always like the Ed McMahon rule.  The best question comes out in the last answer, and your last answer before this, you said that she was good at discriminating among friends and figuring out who were the bad influences and the good influences. 

John Sears, in that first campaign for president in 1976 or rather 1980, the second time around, why was it critical to yank him as campaign manager, and was Nancy involved with that?

COLACELLO:  Nancy was very involved.  It got to the point where he was trying to control everything, just keeping everything in his hands.  He pushed out Mike Deaver, who was essential in keeping Nancy in the loop in terms of her husband‘s campaign. 

He was about to push out Ed Meese, who was Reagan‘s closest and oldest aide.  She realized that this was not working anymore and that Sears was out for himself much more than he was out for her husband. 

MATTHEWS:  And she got Ronald Reagan to fire Sears the day he won the New Hampshire primary. 

COLACELLO:  That‘s right.  And the timing was brilliant, too, because they couldn‘t sort of—if he had lost the primary, they couldn‘t say they were just, you know, kicking Sears when he was down.  Everything was really so well-handled by her.  She was very subtle in her machinations. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you a darker example of bad personnel management turned good.  I don‘t know who thought Don Regan would be a smart politician to be the president‘s chief of staff.  He had no real political background coming from Merrill Lynch, even though he was the big shot there. 

How did she get him out of the White House?  Because I think he was on watch, as I recall, when the Iran-Contra thing went to hell. 

COLACELLO:  He was on watch, and someone said to me, “The problem with Don Regan is he forgot that the job was chief of staff.  He left out the staff part.” 

He, too, like John Sears, wanted everything in his hands.  Ronald Reagan worked best when he had a group of people arguing out things in front of him and then he‘d make a decision.  Nancy knew that.  Nancy brought in Mike Deaver who had left the White House at that point. 

She brought in Bob Strauss, the chairman of the Democratic Party, who was a big player in Washington, to convince her husband that Don Regan had to go.  She again, once again, she did this subtly behind the scenes on the telephone, no memos, very hard to trace it unless you‘ve actually interviewed the principals, which I have done. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve followed Reagan‘s career since the mid-50s, early ‘50s.  As a kid, I watched “GE Theater.”  I noticed early on his political interests.  I knew he was a man on the conservative side of things, very patriotic, extremely anti-communist.  That‘s the first thing I noticed.

COLACELLO:  True. 

MATTHEWS:  That was all pure Ronald Reagan before Nancy, right, the anti-communism?

COLACELLO:  That was pure Ronald Reagan.  The anti-communism I chronicled step-by-step in my book.  That happened when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild.  He was a member of many liberal organizations, and he saw the way the communists worked, the way they took over these organizations in an underhanded way. 

That made him angry.  That made him—and also thought the liberals

did not have the stomach to stand up to the communists.  So he moved right

·         that was a systematic, thought-out process on his part, nothing to do with Nancy.  

MATTHEWS:  And he saw the communists at their worst in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  In fact, before that, he was seen as too liberal to campaign—what was it—for Truman back in ‘48?

COLACELLO:  No, he was head of Truman‘s campaign in 1948, actually.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t they take him out of one of the races because they thought he was too liberal?  Was it—the ‘50 race for the Senate?

COLACELLO:  Helen Gahagan Douglas was running for Congress in 1950.

MATTHEWS:  The Senate, right. 

So he was so far liberal that he was seen at the time as being a possible handicap for Helen Douglas in her losing race to Nixon. 

COLACELLO:  That‘s right.  But he actually—that‘s where Nancy came in, in ‘52, when Nixon ran for Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas.  Nancy was having some influence already, I think, then pulling him toward the Republican side. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the thing that always seemed to be a disconnect with the Reagans.  They‘re very conservative.  They‘re culturally conservative.  They‘re churchgoers.  Certainly, Ronald Reagan was in his life and Nancy is. 

Let me ask you this.  They are also very tolerant to the gay community and very, I think, hard-to-read on the issue of abortion rights, because even though the president said he was for outlawing abortion, he never moved a constitutional amendment really.  He never really got involved in that movement.  Start with the gay thing.  Was he pro-gay rights?  Was he understanding of the gay...

COLACELLO:  Ronald Reagan was against all discrimination.  You know,

he was brought up not to discriminate against blacks and Jews.  In those

days, those were the big issues.  His father would not stay in a hotel that

·         if he was told Jews can‘t stay in this hotel, he slept in his car. 

I think both of them came out of Hollywood.  They had a lot of gay friends.  They had all kinds of friends.  The thing about the whole circle of Reagan friends was there they are a mix of everything. 

On abortion, Ronald Reagan signed the first abortion liberalization law in California.  He did that after great, great anguish, really.  His Catholic friends were pulling him one way, his Protestant friends the other. 

He actually signed this law that allowed abortion in the event that the mother‘s life was in danger.  And he then sat down and wrote a letter to Betsy Bloomingdale, who was a devout catholic, Nancy‘s closest friend, apologizing for signing that law. 

So he was torn about abortion.  But he felt, I think, it should be legal but discouraged. 

MATTHEWS:  Very interesting.  A bit of a libertarian there, I guess. 

We‘ll come right back.  We‘re talking to Bob Colacello.

And later, a look at another historic partnership that helped shape this country, Franklin Roosevelt and Sir Winston Churchill.   You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Vanity Fair” magazine‘s Bob Colacello, author of the new book, “Ronnie and Nancy,” which I said—and I don‘t have to be alone on this—is being taken as a very serious piece of history.  It hasn‘t been written before, and as Ron pointed out—or Bob pointed out—take six years working on this book. 

Let me ask you about the end of the Cold War and Nancy Reagan‘s role in that partnership.  I have a sense that she worried about her husband‘s legacy—and who wouldn‘t—and I also have a sense that that combination of her concern about his legacy may have helped focus his attention on hopeful possibilities. 

In other words, recognizing that Gorbachev—Gorbachev was not your usual Soviet robot when he came along.  He followed a number of very unhealthy premiers of the Soviet Union and he came along and Reagan saw something.  Tell me about that dual vision of who Gorbie was. 

COLACELLO:  Well, you know, Reagan saw in Gorbachev someone who was not the standard-issue communist.  The first summit they had in Geneva, and again, here‘s Nancy‘s role, she realized her husband is very good one-on-one with people.  So they went to Geneva a little early.  She scoped out the house where they were going to have the summit. 

There was a little guest house with a fireplace.  She had that all set up and it was worked out that, at a certain point, Ronnie would invite Gorbachev to take a walk, go into the guest house, and spend a few minutes alone together just with the translator. 

They were in there for something like three-quarters of an hour.  Secretary of State Schultz, everybody was really worried.  But when they came out, they had agreed to have two more summits and Reagan was convinced that Gorbachev was someone he could deal with, because Gorbachev said, “God willing, God willing we‘ll see each other again in Moscow and Washington.” 

He also told Reagan that his mother still went to church in Russia.  And those two things together made Reagan say, “You know, this guy is not an atheistic, totalitarian, rigid communist.”  He had hope for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But there is always that conflict in Soviet and Russian history where you see like Mrs. Brezhnev making the sign of the cross over her dead husband.  Remember that great scene?

I mean, it is hard to read where religion left off and where it crept back into their culture.  But let me ask you about the end of the Cold War.  How much was it personal?  Just that Reagan found this guy who was willing to say it‘s not going to work for the Soviet Union anymore, it‘s not going to work for the communist effort that we‘ve tried.  We have got to try something else, and Reagan spotting that character.

COLACELLO:  I think a lot of it was personal.  I think Reagan was fortunate to have Gorbachev as his opponent, let‘s say.  Also, the Pope was on the scene.  Thatcher was on the scene.  You had four people who were somehow going in the same direction. 

Again, Nancy encouraged the meetings with Gorbachev.  There were lots of hard-liners who wanted no meetings with the Russians, and she worked hand in hand with Secretary of State Schultz, who was a moderate, to make sure these meetings happened. 

As you said, with Ronnie‘s legacy in mind, she didn‘t want him to go down in history as a warmonger.  She wanted him to go down as a man of peace. 

MATTHEWS:  My friend, Rick Hertzberg, who writes for “The New Yorker” magazine, I thought wrote a wonderful account of Reagan‘s passing.  And he said that, unlike a lot of the hawks today, he didn‘t want to continue the war.  He wanted to end it.  He wanted to end the fighting. 

And he saw in Gorbachev a chance to bring it to end.  In other words, to find peace, not just this Orwellian ongoing war that some people seem to indulge in. 

COLACELLO:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘m talking about.

COLACELLO:  Right, Reagan‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Not that other great leaders haven‘t loved war, but they‘re around today.  People that just like the combat. 

COLACELLO:  Reagan as a young man even had a pacifist side to him.  But Reagan‘s motto as president was “peace through strength.”  So the first term was about the big military buildup, the biggest in history, when we weren‘t in an actual war. 

But the second term became about now the peace part.  And Nancy again had a lot to do with nudging the administration that way behind the scenes.  But her husband, he and Gorbachev came close to almost outlawing all nuclear weapons. 

Reagan‘s really was—his goal was to make the world a safer place and to get along with the Russians, if he could.  But on our terms, on terms favorable to us, and that‘s what he achieved. 

MATTHEWS:  Reagan was a great writer.  He wrote a lot of scripts over the years for radio commentaries.  That‘s all become gradually clear to a lot of people how much of the writing he did himself.  How much did Nancy get involved in some of that great rhetoric toward the end of the Cold War?

COLACELLO:  I don‘t think she was involved in the rhetoric at all, to tell you the truth.  I‘ve seen thousands of letters that Reagan wrote on yellow pads where he would write a three or four-page letter and cross out one or two adjectives along the way and replace them with a better adjective. 

Communications was his area.  Her area was really more, again, personnel, and, also, maybe nudging him a little toward the center, in terms of international relations. 

She made a lot of friends in Washington with people like Kay Graham, publisher of “The Washington Post,” Bob Strauss, head of the Democratic Party.  She was, you know, very skilled socially, and she was hearing from these people, you know, a more internationalist point of view. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob, what a great book. 

COLACELLO:  OK, thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Colacello.  The book‘s called “Ronnie and Nancy.”  It‘s serious, big-time history.  It‘s also a lot of fun.  I‘ve been reading it.  It has everything. 

Anyway, congratulations.  Everybody‘s going to buy this for Christmas. 

Anyway, the special relationship between America and Great Britain, coming up with Jon Meacham, the author of “Franklin and Winston.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Jon Meacham, the managing editor of “Newsweek,” whose book, “Franklin and Winston:  An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship” is now out in paperback. 

Well, let‘s bring this British-American affair up to date, because it matters, the special relationship, us and Britain.  Tony Blair came to the White House just recently and said, “Get on it, Mr. President.  Let‘s make the Middle East a peaceful area.”  How powerful was that push?

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR OF “FRANKLIN AND WINSTON”:  I think it was hugely important.  Blair called at 3:30 in the morning on election night.  He was the only foreign leader who, I think, had the personal relationship to call at that hour. 

MATTHEWS:  Greenwich Meantime or Washington time?

MEACHAM:  Washington time.  He was up.  That used to be a big deal, when Churchill could stay up—Roosevelt could stay up letter when he was communicating. 

I think it‘s very important, because Blair—it‘s payback time for Blair.  Blair stood there with Bush when no one else would do it and when the world seemed to be against him.  And, you know, Blair has been following Churchill‘s advice to his last cabinet throughout, which was never be separated from the Americans. 

But now the Americans have to give back a little bit to Blair, and I think the road to peace in the Middle East may be because of this relationship... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yet the president has does something unusual, President Bush, in winning reelection has set down some markers.  First of all, he wants to reform the tax system and clarify it and simplify it and maybe make it different, maybe make it a sales tax.  Who knows. 

He also said he‘s going to make Social Security more of an individual choice involving how you invest your money.  This thing, though, for the first time, I heard him say, I will do this thing.  I will create two states, in what was Palestine. 

The Jewish state will be sound.  It will have as its neighbor a Palestinian state.  And I will do this by the end of my four-year term.  That is pretty rare for Bush to do that.  Did he have to that, do you think?

MEACHAM:  I don‘t think he had to, but I think he believes it.  I think we‘ve all made a mistake for a long time with George Bush by not listening to him.  I mean, he does what he says he is going to do within reason, and sometimes beyond it.

But he absolutely wants to see this happen.  He wants this to be his legacy.  If he can bring some order to that part of the world, then that helps him on the other part of it, which is this forward march of freedom when you move further to the east. 

MATTHEWS:  If we release the pressure on the West from the angry Arab world, the Islamic world, about what‘s happening with the Palestinians. 

MEACHAM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And kill those TV pictures. 

MEACHAM:  Kill the TV pictures.  And, you know, there‘s this argument that it was the collapse of Oslo that gave bin Ladenism some fuel to take off, when people began, particularly on the Palestinian side, began to see no hope there. 

And now there is some hope.  Arafat is dead.  Blair has been pushing Bush.  Bush is on record, as you say, wanting to do this.  And remember, this is legacy time.  This is the trumpets of history time.  This is the Bush legacy time. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  And, so, if he‘s going to do it, he‘s going to do it now. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll now test your guts.  What is the stronger tie, us and London or us and Tel Aviv?

MEACHAM:  London. 

MATTHEWS:  Stronger?

MEACHAM:  I think so. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, the president would rather keep Tony Blair satisfied and in office and in power by doing this, even if it pushes Sharon a bit harder than he has ever pushed him? 

MEACHAM:  I think so, because London will be there forever and London is more of a global player.  Now, obviously, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, is more violent and more visceral and also the religious element is there.  But remember that religious faith is what bonds Bush and Blair in many, many ways. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re both Methodist?

MEACHAM:  They are both evangelical Methodists.  They believe very much in the mission of preaching the good news, of putting the good news out there.  Not necessarily pushing it in the theocratic way, but in being faithful and being very public about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In other words, they‘re not merely formally Episcopalian, for example, the way that Roosevelt was.  They‘re much more deeply Christian in their emotions. 

MEACHAM:  Well, Episcopalians can be Christians.  I know that sometimes the Catholics...

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t say that they weren‘t.  I said that they were more deeply emotional in their religion.  I am very careful about that.  I know the offense that can be made toward mainstream Episcopalians by saying they‘re... 

MEACHAM:  Well, we are God‘s frozen people, and we do try very hard. 

Yes, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Having been to all the churches, I can say that probably black Baptists here, Catholic here, Episcopalian way over here. 

MEACHAM:  Near the bar. 

MATTHEWS:  Much more calm and non-emotional, that‘s to say—but just to get back to this.  You say there is a bond of evangelicalism between the president of the United States and the British prime minister. 

MEACHAM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And that explains their closeness. 

MEACHAM:  I think so.  I think absolutely so.  And it did with Roosevelt and Churchill, because they were both, as you say, sort of colder Christians. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  They bonded for the first time, remember, in August of 1941 at that wonderful church parade aboard the Prince of Wales when they sang “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Onward Christian soldiers” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”  And afterward, Roosevelt said, “Onward Christian soldiers, we are Christian soldiers, and we will go on with God‘s help.” 

This was before we were in the war.  And Churchill had very carefully stage-managed that service to remind Franklin Roosevelt of what Britain was fighting for.  And it was to fight for the world that Roosevelt would most want to protect from harm, and that‘s the world of St. James Church, Hyde Park, the world of Groton, the world of Harvard. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does that make us all feel better, I mean, just to know that the British and Americans are together on something?  Americans want to be liked, but we also want to be respected.  The Brits want to be respected.  They don‘t mind being liked. 

But why is it that we like to be liked by England so much?  We like their approval.  Whether it‘s with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, or it‘s  Benny Goodman or whatever, we love it when the Brits like our stuff. 

MEACHAM:  I think it‘s cultural insecurity.  I think that we still feel slightly as though they‘re “Masterpiece Theater” and we‘re vaudeville, and that somehow or another that translates into politics.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re the colonies still. 

MEACHAM:  Yes.  We‘re still the colonies.  You know, we‘re the upstarts.  You know, Harold Macmillan once said about Britain‘s role in this relationship is, we are the Greeks in the new Roman Empire.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  You know, we the Americans are the brutish, strong, but not particularly sophisticated people, and the Brits are the smooth operators who will translate us to the rest of Europe.  That‘s what Blair tried to do during Iraq.  That‘s what he‘s going to keep trying to do.  He needs to do a little better job, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this politically.  Is it in the interest of any British government, any prime minister of Britain, to try to establish an Atlantic relationship as a counterforce to the continent of Europe?

MEACHAM:  Yes.  Otherwise, Britain becomes one of the 26 states of the

E.U. 

MATTHEWS:  The satellite of Europe.

MEACHAM:  Yes.

Otherwise you‘re just another...

MATTHEWS:  What does the Atlantic deal do to that?  How does it change it, that Tony Blair be known to Europe, to Chirac and to Schroeder and the rest of them, Berlusconi of Italy, that he is our pal?

MEACHAM:  It doesn‘t help him with those, particularly those three, but it helps him with Spain.  It helps him in the Middle East, because, frankly the Middle East respects force.  They respect strength.  And if Britain is with America, and we‘re stronger, that‘s good.  There is news this week that France may be softening a bit on this. 

The interesting thing about the American bet here, which is kind of like containment brought into the new century, is if we—I think Bush‘s bet is if we stand strong enough, eventually they‘re going to come around, because there is no place else for them to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MEACHAM:  You know, as my colleague and friend Fareed Zakaria likes to point out, the largest Air Force in the world is the United States Air Force and the second largest is the United States Navy‘s. 

I mean, we are so big at this point that ultimately they‘re going to have to come closer to us than we are to them. 

MATTHEWS:  We want the Brits to be on our side because we love their respect, and they are in fact one of the European powers.  It‘s better to have one than none.  And it‘s certainly one of the premier powers. 

They want to have us because it gives them leverage against the continent of Europe.  We act as if they followed us into Iraq.  I‘m not so sure.  The first time we went into Iraq, it was Margaret Thatcher who said, “Don‘t wobble.  Don‘t go wobbling,” to George Bush the first, sort of goading him into going. 

Isn‘t there an historic love by the Brits—and I don‘t have—you don‘t have to see “Lawrence of Arabia” 20 times to know this—for that part of the world.  They love having power within that part of the world, the Mideast. 

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  There‘s no question. 

MATTHEWS:  And what‘s that about, the historic drive by the Brits for some kind of dominant role or powerful role in the Mideast?  Is it oil or is it preceded?

MEACHAM:  It‘s colonialism.  It‘s the idea that they are a civilizing force, that the rule of law, that the British traditions are in fact going forth.  That was very much part of what Churchill was doing even when he was in the tent creating Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were an Iraqi, wouldn‘t you be suspicious that Britain was to regain its role, its prominent role east of Suez?

MEACHAM:  Sure.  But remember what they used call it, the British mandate, you know, only 80 years ago.  So, absolutely.  You fear the return of colonialism.  That‘s why I think what President Bush has done is very good, by talking so much about democracy and what we‘re going to see at the end of January, if these elections come off, is hugely important. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s important to remind us, as you have the last seven minutes, that this is not a buddy film.  This is power politics on the world stage, and the American-British relationship is based upon sound, mutual advantage. 

MEACHAM:  It is.  It is.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And the name of your book—I‘ve said it before, the best book on public policy I‘ve ever read, “Franklin and Winston.”  Thank you very much, Jon Meacham. 

MEACHAM:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, the last letters home from some brave men and women who gave their lives in Iraq.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, the last letters home from some of the brave American men and women who gave their lives on the front lines.  Plus, Ron Reagan interviews actor Gary Sinise about his humanitarian work in Iraq. 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

At this time of giving thanks, we want to honor the men and women of the military who gave their lives fighting in Iraq.  In tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Bob Sullivan has assembled a book of letters written by soldiers in Iraq before their last day.  The book is entitled “Last Letters Home: Voices of American Soldiers From the Battlefields of Iraq.”

Bob, thank you for joining us. 

What inspired you? 

BOB SULLIVAN, EDITOR, “LAST LETTERS HOME”:  Well, it‘s nice to be with you, Chris. 

Well, what inspired us to do this book was the same thing that inspired “The New York Times” to run some of these letters in their op-ed page first and then for HBO to do a documentary of the same title on this same subject with some of these same families.  And that is to give a human face to the war. 

As you know, statistics can just be numbing.  You just lose sight of, you know, what‘s going on as the death toll climbs and as the injuries, injury toll climbs.  And I think we have to remember, and as you said particularly at a season like this, Thanksgiving, Christmas, these are our brothers and sisters over there fighting.  And this book serves to, we hope, put a human face on the effort. 

We hear in the morning about, you know, people getting killed outside Baghdad, people getting killed in Fallujah.  It can just breeze right past us.  These letters, which are heartfelt, passionate letters written by young people and older people—there are—some of the people who were killed are 43, 51 years old in this and have seen a lot of life.  They‘re very introspective, very loving and, as I said, passionate.  And I think you get to know these people and their families through these letters. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in Genevieve King.  Her son, Lance Corporal Marcus Cherry, was killed by enemy gunfire in Ramadi at the age of just 18.  And his letter is featured in the book. 

Thank you very much, Genevieve. 

GENEVIEVE KING, MOTHER OF LANCE CORPORAL MARCUS CHERRY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanksgiving time is coming and he was 18.  How long has it been now since he died? 

KING:  Approximately—almost eight months. 

MATTHEWS:  What was it about, his joining the service and his dedication to his unit?  What was it about from what you could tell from his letters and what he said when he talked to you? 

KING:  Well, his motivation came as soon as his brother came back from boot camp.  And he learned that his brother, Andre Cherry, would be going to Iraq himself.  And I think that‘s what motivated him.  That was one of the motives, to follow in his brother‘s footsteps. 

I didn‘t want him to go.  His fiance didn‘t want him to go.  But ultimately we supported him in going and he did, right or wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Did he know—did he think—well, I guess he knew.  What did he express to you about the dangers? 

KING:  Well, one of the dangers he mentioned with me was pretty much the statistics.  He mentioned to me that, mom, what are the odds of me and my brother coming back?  And I said, Marcus, this is not the time to talk like that.  Don‘t talk like that.  And he said, well, I‘m not coming back unless I come back with everyone in my unit.  That was one of those key words that he said.  I can only paraphrase what he said, but that was one of the phrases that he mentioned, that he would not come back unless he brought, because he went in there to be a leader, first in line, last to come back. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he ever talk about the mission in Iraq, what he thought of it?  Did he ever say, you know, I think this is important or, yes, this is the kind of job you get when you go in the military; you can‘t decide what battles to fight? 

KING:  Well, mostly, when he was in Iraq, he mostly spoke to his fiance as I was busy working.  The fiance had—more time to speak to her in regards... 

MATTHEWS:  On the phone with him, yes. 

KING:  Pretty much, he mentioned that he was running out of sleep, the war seemed to be more dangerous, and that death was the last thing in his vocabulary. 

And so that was pretty much what he mentioned to her, that for her to keep planning, like plans for marriage.  He had plans to be with his family, spend more time.  He spoke to that with his brother Andre three days before he passed on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s incredibly—he passed away at such a young age.  How old are you?  You are very young, too, aren‘t you? 

KING:  Actually, I‘m 40 years old. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You seem very young. 

Let me ask you about his brother and his—he is coming back.  He has come back as well, right?  He is not going to go back over there, is he? 

KING:  No, he is not going back.  As a matter of fact, he is going to be leaving the Marine Corps.  I‘m not so sure when, but procedures are in effect. 

MATTHEWS:  So it looks like it‘s pretty safe for him now?

KING:  Yes.  He is suffering emotionally to the point where, as much as he loves the Marine Corps, he just feels that he needs—he has done his time.  Seeing his brother pass on and knowing that he went to the first war, second war, and then he just wants to move on. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you read us something of what your son wrote you back? 

KING:  Well, Marcus wrote numerous letters to his fiance, my children, and friends, but the one thing he wrote to me, I will just read you a couple of lines. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

KING:  It says: “I love and care about you very much.  Even if no man is willing to take care of you, in the end, you have a son, a man that you raised that will.”

The reason why that touches me a whole lot is because I raised my four children as a single parent for the most part, and he‘d seen the hard work that I put in them so they can grow up and be successful. 

MATTHEWS:  What was he like? 

KING:  Marcus?  Very outgoing.  Nothing ever let him—keep him down.  He always said little key phrases like, mom, it‘s all a state of mind.  He wanted to be out there in the spotlight.  He wanted to be a performer, singer, rapper.  He served God, left me with a Christian C.D. that he made with a friend of his.  And I listen to that all the time.  It keeps me going.  Actually, each time that I listen to his C.D., he is still teaching me something. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Look, we‘re going to come right back after this commercial with Bob Sullivan and Genevieve King—we‘re talking to her right now—and another mother who lost her daughter over in Iraq. 

We‘ll all be back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, more letters home from the front lines of Iraq.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Bob Sullivan and Genevieve King, who lost her son in Iraq. 

And I now want to bring in Mary Bosveld, whose daughter, Private 1st Class Rachel Bosveld, was killed in a mortar attack.  Private Bosveld was buried on the day of her 20th birthday.

Thank you, Mary, for joining us. 

I guess the same question about the motivation of Mary (sic) in joining the military and going over and risking and ultimately giving her life for her country. 

MARY BOSVELD, MOTHER OF PRIVATE 1ST CLASS RACHEL BOSVELD:  Rachel believed that she wanted to make a difference in people‘s lives and in our country and other countries and in the universe as a whole.  And she believed with all of her heart that that‘s what she was doing by joining the Army. 

There were many things she could have done.  She was a multitalented child. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BOSVELD:  And that was what she believed was her purpose. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me, if you can, about her feelings about her unit and what it meant to her to be in a unit under fire. 

BOSVELD:  She was very excited about her job, most of the time, until her Humvee was attacked on September 12.  After that, things changed. 

But up until that time, everything was exciting to her.  She loved her job and every letter she would write, she would say she would say things like, guess what I got to do, mom?  I got to go on a secret mission.  I got to do this.  I got to do that.  It was all—you know, I was the only female in the whole mission.  And she really liked what she was doing.  She loved her job. 

(CROSSTALK)  

BOSVELD:  She even said in one of her letters...

MATTHEWS:  Could you read some of one?

(CROSSTALK)

BOSVELD:  Sure. 

Well, this is the last letter she wrote home, which is really after things changed.  But this was the last letter.  She said: “Mom, hey, I don‘t have much time, but since the Internet and the phones are down, I wanted to write and let you know that I am really doing OK.  My Purple Heart ceremony is tomorrow now, and I‘m excited.  P.T. tests are on the 29th and I‘ll pass that with no worries.  Well, I got to get ready so that I can go eat chow now before I head out to work tonight.  Take care, mom.  I love you and miss you very much.  Keep thinking about me.  And pray for me lots.  Rachel.”

MATTHEWS:  “I got to go to work tonight,” boy, that must have hit you, the notion of a daughter going to work and you know what work means. 

BOSVELD:  Right. 

And this was probably an hour or less before that—she was killed in the end. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling about—did she do what she wanted to do in life? 

BOSVELD:  Absolutely.  She made a difference.  And she—that was her life path, is to make a difference on a universal level, and I believe she did that, totally. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of it all? 

BOSVELD:  Well, that was her life path.  And, logically, I understand that.  However, she is my daughter before she is a soldier.  I believe she was doing what she really believed in and, yet, she was my only daughter. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it amazing that the military life can be so rewarding as long as you‘re alive?  I mean, it seemed like she was loving it. 

BOSVELD:  Oh, she was, every moment of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—let‘s go back to Bob. 

Bob, tell me about how these—I hate to say it, but what strikes me is not that they have a similarity, but they have a difference.  Everybody seems so unique. 

SULLIVAN:  The 14 troops that are in the book and their families are astonishingly unique and varied.  But there are similarities. 

To talk about the two young people that we talked about tonight, Rachel Bosveld and Marcus Cherry, you know, I would suggest, Chris, that it comes through in the book, I hope.  Some people question whether everybody over there is a hero, to use that term.  These two people—and, you know, standing in for everyone who‘s over there, they really were heroes.  And there is testimony to that in the book. 

What Ms. Bosveld didn‘t mention was, when Rachel‘s Humvee got attacked well before she was killed in another incident, you know, she dislocated her shoulder trying to get that door open and she got herself and her colleagues out of that truck and they walked into small-arms fire after that.  But they got out of that. 

Marcus Cherry‘s troop commander, Valdez (ph), we quoted from a couple of letters he wrote to Marcus‘ mother Mrs. King, you know, talking about what her boy had done over there.  And he called him—and this doesn‘t—when Marines are writing, they don‘t use this all the time.  He said, he was the model Marine.  And he used the word hero. 

He didn‘t use that lightly.  There are a lot of heroes in this book.  And, you know, at this time of the year, it‘s something we should dwell on and realize that, even as we sit down at the table in the next several months and enjoy our families and so forth, there‘s daily heroism going on in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Are these stories much different, these letters, I should say, than the letters you would have read coming back from war during World War II fighting out in the Pacific or fighting in Europe against Hitler? 

SULLIVAN:  We have an introductory essay in the book where we try to explain that.  There are some characteristics of war letters that differ.  For instance, back in the Revolutionary War, you had to get the news out. 

Today‘s letters are far more introspective because the news is on CNN. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SULLIVAN:  And what these people are writing home is about themselves and about their relationship with their family and how the war plays into all that. 

So, I think these letters are a little more personal than that.  It‘s not a question of, you know, journalism, if you will.  Having said that, we point out in the essay there are very great similarities between war letters through the years.  And what they have to do with are young people or not so young people facing mortality for the first time in their life and the way that changes them.  They‘re looking at life in a new way.  And so these letters are very poignant and they‘re very fraught. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And I think they sound like they‘re coming home, too, to their families in ways they have never expressed before, fear and death and feeling that—the pull of family at those moments that are most poignant. 

Anyway, thank you very much. 

SULLIVAN:  And always trying to cheer the families up, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SULLIVAN:  That is important. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you on, Genevieve.  Thank you very much for coming on.  It‘s not easy.  And it‘s great that you‘re here. 

And also, Mary Bosveld, thank you, and Bob Sullivan. 

Proceeds from the book, by the way, “Last Letters Home,” benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. 

Up next, Ron Reagan talks with actor Gary Sinise about his humanitarian work in Iraq. 

And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Show business people, especially the late Bob Hope, have a long history of getting involved in U.S. overseas campaigns.  But actor Gary Sinise has taken it one step further. 

Here‘s HARDBALL‘s Ron Reagan. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FORREST GUMP”)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR:  Morning, sir.

GARY SINISE, ACTOR:  Get your hands down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RON REAGAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over):  Gary Sinise has played many roles in his stellar career, from Lieutenant Dan in “Forrest Gump” to his latest, Mac Taylor, the dedicated investigator on the new television series “CSI: New York.”

But it was a recent visit to Iraq with the USO that helped him create his most rewarding role, that of humanitarian. 

SINISE:  I got to go out to a village and to an Iraqi school and meet with the Iraqis and see how the Americans had rebuilt the school and the soldiers, you know, the relationship that they had with the kids there.  And it was wonderful to see them.  I mean, there was this tremendous goodwill between the kids and the teachers and the American soldiers there.  And I thought, gosh, you know, this is something that people don‘t see.  We don‘t see this side of things, the good part of what‘s going on over there. 

So I came back, went to the principal at my kid‘s school and said let‘s help support this goodwill by sending some school supplies over to the troops, so that they can take them out and distribute them to the kids. 

REAGAN:  He collected and sent over basic supplies, like pens, paper and notebooks, and thought he could do more. 

SINISE:  I wanted to keep that going.  I wanted other people to know how they could do it.

So we started a Web site.  I partnered with Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote “Seabiscuit.”  We partnered, joined forces.  And we started a Web site, www.OperationIraqiChildren.org.  And since then, we‘ve had thousands of people all over the country and in some cases the world, Australia, Holland, England, have gone to the Web site, put school supplies together and sent them to us to a warehouse in Kansas City, and we then we put them on FedEx planes and send them over to Iraq. 

REAGAN (on camera):  Now, you went over with the USO to Iraq.  That‘s a pretty dangerous place over there.  Were you ever scared? 

SINISE:  No.  But when we went out to the Iraqi school, we had flak jackets and helmets and they made everybody wear those.  In November, I went back with Wayne Newton, Chris Isaak and Neal McCoy.  And we went north of Baghdad about 40 miles and that‘s where I went to the Iraqi school. 

REAGAN:  Are you thinking of going back and checking up on your school? 

SINISE:  Yes, I would very much like to go back on my hiatus from “CSI: New York” in the spring to check into some of the schools and see how the program is going.  There are kids all over the world that need help.  Sure, there are kids here in this country that could use some school supplies, no doubt about that. 

The difference here is that our troops are in a war zone.  They‘re trying very hard.  They‘re working hard to build bridges and build relationships with the Iraqis in a way that we‘ve never had before.  And what I tried to do by starting Operation Iraqi Children is just find a way to help support that. 

REAGAN:  Now, this isn‘t just about the kids.  It‘s actually about the American soldiers as well. 

SINISE:  Our troops are there, and I support them wherever they go in whatever they do.  They need our backing.  And I‘m just trying to help them feel a little better, because every time they take this stuff out, it not only is a celebration for the Iraqis and the kids there, but it‘s a morale booster for our troops over there.  They feel great. 

A lot of them have kids of their own, and when they give this stuff to these kids and they see the smiles on their faces, you can see the smiles on the faces of the troops, too.  And that picks up their morale and makes them feel good. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Join us again Monday night at 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL. 

Have a wonderful weekend. 

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