LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR: This is Lester Holt live at MSNBC world headquarters, receiving world from Associated Press quoting a Reagan family friend as saying that former President Ronald Wilson Reagan has died at his family home in Bel Air, California. We‘re not getting any further confirmation beyond that report. As you know, we‘ve been reporting throughout this day that many reports have had him close to death. There has been a steady stream of family friends and members of the family coming to the family‘s Bel Air estate. Ronald Reagan suffering from Alzheimer‘s for 10 years. He announced to the American public via a letter in 1994. The words, “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America, there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”
Ronald Reagan was 93 years old. He was the oldest man to take the presidency of the United States. And again, according to Associated Press quoting a family friend that Ronald Reagan is dead. NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell looks back on the life—or NBC‘s Tom Brokaw now with a look back at the former president.
RONALD REAGAN: As a boy, I saw streets filled with Model T‘s. As a man, I have met men who walked on the moon. I have not only seen but lived the marvels of what historians have called the American century.
TOM BROKAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was rooted in the heart of America, a small town Midwest boyhood centered in home, family, country.
REAGAN: We were taught very directly what it means to be an American.
BROKAW: Lessons that would guide him through a lifetime, to his first job as a sportscaster. And to Hollywood, where as a dying athlete we first heard him say...
REAGAN: Win just one for the Gipper.
Go out there and win one for the Gipper.
BROKAW: In the 1950s, he was acting on television.
REAGAN: Right now, let‘s see what General Electric has done to make your television viewing more enjoyable.
BROKAW: In 10 years with GE, he completed a transformation from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican.
REAGAN: Actually, a government bureau is the closest thing to eternal life we‘ll ever see on this earth.
BROKAW: It was 1964. Reagan was supporting Barry Goldwater‘s presidential campaign. Two years later, he ran for governor of California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ronald Reagan has played many roles. This year he wants to play governor. Are you willing to pay the price of admission?
BROKAW: They were. In his two terms, Reagan pared down state government, erased the deficit, cut the welfare rolls. But he also signed a liberal abortion law.
In 1976, he challenged Gerald Ford for the presidency, barely losing the GOP nomination. Four years later, after a bad start, he came on strong in the New Hampshire primaries.
REAGAN: I am paying for this microphone.
BROKAW: Reagan chose George Bush as his running mate and took aim at Jimmy Carter.
REAGAN: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
BROKAW: The former actor carried 44 states.
REAGAN: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear...
BROKAW: At age 69, he became the nation‘s oldest president. Then just two months in office, an attempt on his life. Yet he recovered quickly.
Nancy Reagan became his partner in the White House, overseeing security and travel, even helping him with reporters.
NANCY REAGAN: Doing everything we can.
REAGAN: Doing everything we can.
BROKAW: The country also suffered through its worst recession in 50 years, before the economy started expanding again.
Reagan had charmed Congress, winning big cuts in taxes and social programs and big increases for defense, including billions for space-based defense systems.
As defense spending soared, so did morale in the military, which embraced Reagan. When 241 Marines died in a terrorist bombing in Beirut, Americans seemed not to hold him responsible.
REAGAN: If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president.
BROKAW: Reagan‘s foreign policy also included the invasion of Grenada, financing El Salvador‘s right wing government, and his worst crisis, the Iran-Contra affair, illegally selling weapons to Iran to free American hostages and using the profits of the sale to fund Nicaraguan paramilitary groups.
Yet all of this was overshadowed by Reagan‘s biggest foreign policy achievement—the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
The man who said of the Soviets...
REAGAN: They are the focus of evil in the modern world.
BROKAW: ... was also able to engage a new generation of Soviet leadership, leading to the first treaty to cut Soviet and American nuclear weapons.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liftoff of the 21st shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower.
BROKAW: In times of tragedy, Ronald Reagan was the nation‘s great comforter.
REAGAN: We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey waved goodbye. And slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.
BROKAW: Ronald Wilson Reagan, after eight years as president, had become the leader of the modern conservative political movement, and he had also restored America‘s faith in itself. He left office, his popularity intact, and continued to receive the nation‘s support when he revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer‘s disease.
NANCY REAGAN: Just four years ago, Ronnie stood before you and spoke for what he said might be his last speech at a Republican convention.
REAGAN: Whatever else history may say about me when I‘m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. Goodbye and God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.
HOLT: The bulletin coming just a few minutes ago from Associated Press quoting a family friend as saying President Reagan died at his home in Bel Air. He has struggled with Alzheimer‘s for 10 years. And in recent weeks, and especially in the last 24 to 36 hours, there were reports that his condition continued to get worse.
Joined right now by Doris Kearns Goodwin, MSNBC analyst and presidential historian. Doris, the words in his inaugural address, that he was here to begin an era of national renewal, tell me about the America that Ronald Reagan inherited?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, he inherited an America that really had some lost faith in itself. We had three presidents, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon and then Carter, who had left without public support behind them, and there was a sense of inflation, there was a sense of the economy not doing well, a sense that our country, in its terms of relationship abroad, had lost respect. And somehow in that mystical way that a leader can do, he so believed in America and its potential for renewal and its optimism that he projected that onto the American people, and gave them back strength in their military, in themselves, in their armed forces and in their country.
HOLT: We heard the phrase before, we‘ll hear it many times in the days to come, great communicator. And watching Tom‘s story there, hearing that speech, the Challenger disaster, the speech at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 20 years ago. He did have this incredible gift of boiling things down into almost a poetic way.
GOODWIN: And there‘s no question that that‘s what those of us who lived in his lifetime and in his presidency will remember the most about him, is the fact that he was able to make the American people feel what he was feeling. It‘s not just that the words were good, he somehow projected emotion and then they felt the emotion that he was feeling.
HOLT: He had his critics. But was he a polarizing figure?
GOODWIN: Yes. There is no question. I mean, he started—not to the extent in many ways that I think President Bush is. There‘s much more polarization now than there was under Reagan, but clearly he started and strengthened a conservative movement that a lot of people disagreed with. The whole idea of limited government being the most important thing. A lot of people thought that a lot of people were being hurt by that, and the arms race with the Soviet Union. Some people that was the wrong buildup.
HOLT: He was a staunch anti-communist.
GOODWIN: No question.
HOLT: Not only against the Soviet Union, you know, in Nicaragua, supporting the government in El Salvador, and scholars have debated this up to this point and they‘ll debate it long after this day. Did he end the Cold War?
GOODWIN: I mean, that‘s one of the things that I think every 20 years we‘ll get a different answer from scholars. There‘s no question that his arms buildup helped to push the Soviet Union over the line where they were already economically strangled in certain ways. Whether or not other things were happening inside the Soviet Union that might have made them end communism anyway, that‘s what scholars will look at as times goes by, but the arms race had something to do with it, without question.
HOLT: And maybe we‘re getting ahead of ourselves talking about his political legacy. Let‘s talk about the way that he lived his life in these 10 years, that remarkable letter, that poignant letter describing the Alzheimer‘s, and again in that poetic way that every communication had been.
GOODWIN: There‘s a dignity about Ronald Reagan and I think there was an ability to look at himself and laugh at himself. I mean, think about what happened when he got shot, and he was able to make a joke about the doctor the moment he got shot. Which it‘s not just a funny thing to do, but it gives the people a reassurance that this guy was going to be all right.
He gave us a reassurance again when he went off into the Alzheimer‘s journey, with that beautiful line. How many lines of presidents in recent history do we quote? Not very many, anymore. In the old days, we used to do it a lot. And he gave us a lot of those lines.
HOLT: And not afraid to draw a line in the sand. Of course, one of the first things in his first term, fired the air traffic controllers, threatened them, and when they didn‘t come back to work, fired them. Did that define his management style in many ways?
GOODWIN: Well, he obviously was a man who was not worried about taking risk. I mean, that risk, I‘m not sure that was the right thing to do my own self, but nonetheless if something that happened. If there had been an airplane crash, at that time we fired the air controllers before the new ones had all gotten in, it would have been a disastrous move, but he felt he was doing something to unions. He thought he was making a stand that was important in the long run.
HOLT: And I use the term “management style”. Some described him as detached, others that this is a man who would delegate. But he did bring a different way of running the White House, didn‘t he?
GOODWIN: Well, he certainly didn‘t seem feel that he had to be involved in every detail, which Lyndon Johnson, which I think Carter did, which Clinton did. He felt he could just delegate to the people who he trusted, who were around him. What‘ll be interesting to see is, I think, after his death now, more memoirs may come out by people who worked with him that can talk more openly about what was good and what was bad about his management style. I think so long as he was alive, he had such a hold on the people who worked for him that there‘s been a lot of positive stuff that may now have another side to it as well.
HOLT: Doris, let me pause here for a moment.
It‘s now 5:00 on the East Coast, it‘s 2:00 Pacific. If you‘re just joining us, we learned just a few minutes ago that former President Ronald Wilson Reagan died after his long vaunt battle with Alzheimer‘s. This came amid a flurry of reports in the last 24 to 36 hours of a worsening condition from that long battle. He was at his home in Bel Air, California. There has been established a protocol and a procedure that we put into place on news of President Reagan‘s death and if things go according to the way they had been laid out, the president‘s body will be taken at some point to a funeral home and the full staff, Reagan‘s staff will go to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The president‘s body—President Reagan‘s body will then be taken to the Bel Air Presbyterian Church where he will lay in state for a state tribute for 24 hours and then eventually taken to Los Angeles Airport and then he would be flown to Washington, D.C. where the president‘s body, President Reagan‘s body would lie in state at either the National Cathedral or the Capitol Rotunda for perhaps two to three days and then return to California. He is to be buried at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley at sunset.
This whole process and protocol would take perhaps a week and that was laid out in advance of today‘s news and with the reality of the disease that he suffered, the very cruel disease of Alzheimer‘s that claimed his life today.
NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins us on the phone right now from Washington,
Andrea, you were there for the entire Reagan presidency. Give us your thoughts.
ANDREA MITHCELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I—a lot of my thoughts are personal and of great sadness. But in fairness and in truth, as Nancy Reagan has said to other people, he really was lost several years ago. He has not known his family and those, you know, closest to him, including and primarily the first lady, Nancy Reagan. So we‘ve been sad for some time, those of us who knew him and covered him and cared about him because he really did transform the country in so many ways. Even those who didn‘t like his politics have to say that he was a larger than life figure and a great historic figure in 20th century America.
Mrs. Reagan was telling close friends early today that it was very, very, very close. Obviously they knew this was coming. The family physician, Dr. John Hutton came to the house last night. The two sons came last night, Ron Reagan having cut short a vacation trip in Hawaii. So the family gathered around. They said their farewells.
And the saddest thing of all is that he really has been gone for several years and now we can celebrate his life and think about the great things that happened and some of the tough things and you know some of the not so great things that happened during those years, but always the spirit of the man that liked to be called Gipper.
HOLT: And Andrea, talk if you can a little bit about Nancy Reagan. Many people believe that she became even more protective of him after the assassination attempt and certainly enveloped him in this bubble of privacy during this 10-year long battle.
MITCHELL: Well, certainly that, but it was—you‘re right. It was after the assassination attempt and then after his first trip to Europe actually in 1982 when she felt that his staff had overscheduled him and he had done so many different events in so many different countries and she felt he hadn‘t performed well and they reassessed his scheduling and also access to him after that. And there—he was protected quite a bit and kept on a much more restrained schedule. But I think in the last 10 years, preserving the privacy was what you would expect. That was, you know, the decent thing to do.
But what was really interesting about Nancy Reagan in the last 10 years is how she has become so outspoken, a leader for Alzheimer‘s, a leader for research. She‘s spoken out in the last couple of weeks on stem cell research, which is a position in contrast to the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. So she‘s been very prominently out there and at great cost to her because—physical cost because she is frail herself.
HOLT: And we just want to note—we‘ve received word that President Bush, who of course is traveling in Europe has received notification that President Reagan died today. The president spoke at—in Paris today along with the French president. And again, President Bush has been notified that Ronald Reagan passed away today at his home at the age of 93.
Andrea, I mentioned a moment ago, before I introduced you that there has been a long-held plan, protocol that was to be put in place upon the announcement of President Reagan‘s death. Can you give us a sense what Washington is going to be like over the next several days?
MITCHELL: Well, I think Washington is going to be awash with stories and memories and history and it‘s probably a good education for some of the younger generation that doesn‘t recall any of this. But also, there is an official protocol. This is a state funeral and he—Ronald Reagan will first be brought to Simi Valley to the Reagan Library and he will be in repose there for probably about 24 hours. Then he will be brought to Washington. There will, I assume, be a motorcade to the capitol. He‘ll be in the Rotunda. And after that, he would be going—his body would be taken in a funeral procession to the National Cathedral for a state funeral in the cathedral and then brought back that same day to California to be interred at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.
HOLT: Yes, and if you could reflect for me just a moment about the day he came to town and the Washington that he found and how he changed that town for those eight years.
MITCHELL: Well, the Reagan revolution really did transform Republican politics that‘s for sure. And you know there‘s a lot of controversy over the trickle-down economics, supply-side economics and whether or not you could get away with spending as much on the military and cutting the budget, the social budget, as much as he did. At the same time, cutting taxes as well, you know, so that was very controversial in those first few years. There was a recession in 1982, two years in. Midterm elections went badly for him.
But when he came to Washington—when he first arrived in Washington, you may recall, the day he was inaugurated was the day that the Iranian—that the hostages were released from Iran and deliberately so because Iran, the Mullahs, the Ayatollah did not want to give Jimmy Carter the satisfaction of seeing the release. We had a lot of false alarms that they were going to be released. Carter flew back from several trips and was on stand by, in fact, to go over and receive the hostages himself. And of course, in a painful irony, they were released at noon, just as Ronald Reagan was being sworn in and that night after the inaugural balls and the end of the Reagan inaugural day, President Carter, former President Carter went to Plains, Georgia and then from there on to an Air Force jet that used to be Air Force One but was provided by—the new President Ronald Reagan went over to Germany to receive the hostages who had just come there from Tehran. So it was a very emotional 48 hours with the hostages released and Ronald Reagan arriving and a feeling, frankly, of great celebration because the hostage crisis was over as well.
HOLT: All right. NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell. Andrea, thank you very much.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
HOLT: We noted that President Bush has been notified of the death of Ronald Reagan. We want to go to the White House now and NBC‘s Rosiland Jordan there to bring us up to date—Rosiland.
ROSILAND JORDAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Lester. There‘s no official statement so far but the White House has confirmed that it has been notified of the passing of President Ronald Reagan. This is something that they had started talking about earlier today, actually alluding to the fact that they had been notified that the president‘s condition had deteriorated in the past week or so and this is something that the White House has not talked about. There has been a lot of speculation in official Washington over the past couple of months about Mr. Reagan‘s condition, whether or not his health was taking a turn for the worse and the White House had steadfastly refused to make any comment about his condition, instead referring to the fact that he was really the progenitor, the godfather of what is happening in this current administration.
The supply-side economics of the president‘s first term in 1981, 1985, is really what you see happening in this current administration, the president‘s insistence that his tax cuts of ‘01 and of ‘03 are what have brought this country out of a rather prolonged recession. We have—as you said President Bush will be very much involved in leading the nation‘s observances to honor President Reagan and his legacy. But we‘re still awaiting some kind of official statement at this point, but we do know, however, that the White House is aware of what has happened and has confirmed it.
HOLT: And Rosiland, what‘s the—take me through the rest of the president‘s scheduled. When does he return to the United States?
JORDAN: Well, the president is going to be coming back to the United States at the end of the weekend. He is in France. He has wrapped up a series of meetings with the French prime minister—president, excuse me, Mr. Chirac and he is going to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which essentially turned the tide in World War II. The president will be returning to the United States at the end of the weekend to host the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia. But because of the death of President Reagan it‘s not clear at this point what, if anything might be changed in President Bush‘s schedule. This is all literally happening in the past 30 minutes, so people have a lot of discussions that they need to go through because the other leaders of the other seven industrialized nations are coming to visit as well as the new leader of the Iraqi interim government and other leaders from the Mid East and from Africa. A lot of things have to be discussed; a lot of plans might have to be reworked in order to make room for what is going to be truly a national observance, the passing of a president who has influenced not just the course of American politics but American foreign policy over the past 25 years.
HOLT: All right. Rosiland Jordan at the White House. Rosiland, thanks for brining us an update.
I want to also let folks know that NBC‘s David Gregory is traveling with the president. We‘re expecting to hear from him a bit later on as to how the president was notified and what happens now.
And again, if you‘re just joining us, former President Ronald Reagan died at his home in Bel Air, California today at the age of 93.
I want to bring in, if I can, General Barry McCaffrey right now, a retired U.S Army.
And General McCaffrey, a big part of the legacy of Ronald Reagan is a man who came, a staunch anticommunist who increased spending and modernization on all things military to face down the Soviet threat. Can you share your thoughts with me?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, you know, Lester, it‘s almost hard to imagine the state of disarray the U.S. Armed Forces were in coming out of Vietnam and then the increasing, mesmerized reaction we had to this huge Soviet threat. Their technology appeared better, their numbers, their political will. President Reagan came in and either he did or the house of cards of the Soviet Union came apart, but during his presidency, the United States finally got back where it was supposed to be: confident and proud of our principles. We‘ve lost a great man.
HOLT: There was also some military difficulties along the way. There was Grenada, the invasion of Grenada to oust the Marxist government there, and of course, probably one of the saddest moments of his presidency, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. He never lost the faith of the military.
MCCAFFREY: No, I don‘t think so, and as a matter of fact if anything, I think Grenada then and now was a good move. It was a bold move to brush back communism being fostered out of Cuba.
The Beirut bombing was a good example though of responsibility in government. You know the terrible, shocking loss of these brave U.S. Marines, there was a lot of fault to be laid at tactical level. And at the end of the day, the president stepped in and told the commandant of the Marine Corps, you will not take responsibility. I was the commander-in-chief. Here‘s where the responsibility lies.
Again, I think the Armed Forces were enormously trustful and proud of this great man.
HOLT: And let me turn back to Doris Kearns Goodwin for a moment and move to the judicial side of things.
President Reagan appointed four of the current sitting Supreme Court justices, changing—essentially changed the direction of the court.
GOODWIN: And when you think about the fact that the court has such a critical role to play in President Bush‘s election, there‘s a direct line between Rehnquist and Scalia and O‘Connor and the people he put on the court and the people that voted for Bush over Gore in that critical decision.
HOLT: And went to the mat with the Senate over Judge Borg...
GOODIWN: Right, right.
HOLT: And his conservative credentials, there was no getting around it. He came as a conservative Republican. This was a revolution.
GOODWIN: What‘s so interesting though, even though he was conservative, at the time there wasn‘t the same anger upon the polarization in the country as there is now. I mean I‘m not sure whether it was his person and what he was able to do or whether he seemed to be more flexible, which he really wasn‘t, but somehow you didn‘t have this feeling that people hated him even though they were on the other side of a lot of those political battles.
HOLT: Well, he faced the ultimate battle other the last 10 years, the Alzheimer‘s disease, which Ronald Reagan acknowledged to the American people in a letter—and I‘ll read that quote that was so poignant. “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America, there will always be a brought dawn ahead.” The words of Ronald Reagan 10 years ago and the first public acknowledgment of a battle that would claim his life at his home in Bel Air, California today.
NBC‘s chief science correspondent Robert Bazell joins us now on the telephone. He‘s in New Orleans, to give us a bit more about that awful journey that is Alzheimer‘s—Bob.
Robert Bazell, are you with me?
OK, we lost him for a moment. But it is a cruel disease and ultimately ends in dementia. And there are reports that President Reagan‘s health was continuing to deteriorate, especially over the last several days and many saying that it appeared the end was near. And we learned the awful news today.
NBC‘s Mark Mullen is in Bel Air, California, where we have seen lots of comings and goings of family and friends.
What have you seen there in the last several minutes?
MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: A lot of flower trucks bringing flowers to the family home in typical L.A. fashion. Some news helicopters, which are suddenly converging other there particular family compound and again, another sort of L.A. scene. This is an area in which tour buses frequently come by looking at celebrity‘s homes and police are now trying to do crowd control for a little bit of that.
For all of the mayhem and craziness, which is going on outside the gates, it remains, we presume, relatively quiet inside. We make that presumption simply by the fact of the monitoring of people that have been coming and going, very few people going in the last 24 hours or so. Most people simply coming to this particular compound. We have seen the president‘s grandchildren and children coming. We saw Michael Reagan here last night, along with two of his granddaughters—the president‘s granddaughters. We saw Ron Reagan and his sister, Patty, coming in a little while ago. And they have stayed here throughout the entire course of time.
Rumors, for the most part, have been fast and furious about the president‘s health over the last several days. President Reagan‘s office has fielded some 300 phone calls as of late. But we will tell you that behind the scenes, although this has not been reported, stories about his failing health have been circulating for the last three or four weeks or so as people try to figure out exactly what the status of the president was. Not a very easy task because as all of you know at home, President Reagan has kept a low profile since disclosing he had Alzheimer‘s some 10 years ago in that very poignant letter in which—was released in which he said that he was entering the twilight of his life.
Since that time, very low-key, out of sight occasionally. The Reagan family has released a photo or two of Ronald Reagan, for example, celebrating one of his birthdays. But last month, just about three weeks ago, Nancy Reagan, Lester, made a very poignant speech at a fundraiser for stem cell research into possible Alzheimer‘s cures, saying bottom line that she was no longer able to communicate with Ronald Reagan. It was a precursor of what would come and be announced just a little while ago—back to you.
HOLT: Mark Mullen in California. Mark, thanks very much.
Let‘s go now to NBC‘s David Gregory. He‘s traveling with President Bush and comes to us from Paris.
Has there been official reaction from president, David?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: We are waiting for that, Lester.
We have spoken to a senior administration official who said that the president was informed just after 4:00 Eastern Time this afternoon that former President Reagan had died. He was informed by his chief of staff. The president is expected to issue a statement expressing condolences to the Reagan family and talking about the tremendous impact that President Reagan had on him as a current president and indeed on the Republican Party and the entire country.
We‘re told by White House officials that the president will not make a statement on camera to the entire nation until tomorrow morning. But there has certainly been discussion about the deterioration of President Reagan‘s health all day today. The White House having been informed earlier today that perhaps his death was imminent after his health had taken a turn for the worse.
This comes at a most poignant time, the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, the 60th anniversary. The president headed for Normandy tomorrow to recall, no doubt, one to have President Reagan‘s most powerful moments as a communicator to the country, his remembrance of the 40th anniversary of D-Day at Point du Hoc, in that famous speech.
The president, of course, very influenced by this President Reagan, influence is felt on his tax policy, his governing philosophy, and indeed on his outlook on the world and his call for freedom in the Middle East, something that was inspired heavily by President Reagan‘s own stand against the Cold War, and now that this president faces a war on terror. So again tonight, the president mourning the loss of a former president, Ronald Reagan, a huge influence on his political own career. The president‘s chief of staff, Andy Card, informed by Ronald Reagan‘s former chief of staff, Fred Ryan, about the death of President Reagan tonight and the president expected to issue a statement on paper at least, shortly—
HOLT: And David, as you said, it was earlier in the day that the White House was acknowledging they had heard his condition was deteriorating. Do you know if there was any discussion based on that news that the president‘s schedule may change either in Europe or the G-8 here in the U.S.?
GREGORY: It‘s certainly possible, Lester, but I just don‘t know the answer yet. It‘s just too soon. They‘re still working out logistics about putting out a statement to the country about this. The president, as you say, was expected to go from Normandy tomorrow to the G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, but he‘s also expected to preside over the funeral for President Reagan, so a lot of details still to be worked out, but there may be changes afoot.
HOLT: All right. NBC‘s David Gregory traveling with President Bush in Paris.
David, thanks very much. We‘ll stay in touch with you and we‘ll await that statement, that written statement that he talked about from President Bush.
I‘m Lester Holt at MSNBC World Headquarters. We are covering the death of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States who died today at the age of 93 at his home in Bel Air, California, and helping me with the coverage is Doris Kearns Goodwin, an MSNBC analyst and presidential historian.
I realize our audience is, right now, there are young people out here who are wondering, tell me about this Ronald Reagan guy again. What should we take away from his eight years as president?
GOODWIN: Well, I think what people who are too young to have remembered it, will have to try and understand by looking at the pictures was that he was able to somehow create a relationship with the American people where they felt what he was like. That bond does not often happen among a president. And it‘s a leadership bond. And when you listen to the words, his communication skill, he conveyed emotion in what he said. And we haven‘t seen that in a lot of our recent presidents. So they don‘t know what that was like. For those of us who lived through it, whether we agreed with him or not.
HOLT: And in fact, he was known, of course, as an order, The Great Communicator. And let‘s listen to a little bit of Ronald Reagan.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE United States: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.
Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and the beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
And it‘s good to know that Miss Liberty is still giving life to the dream of a new world where old antagonisms could be cast aside and people of every nation could live together as one.
As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it. We will not surrender for it now or ever.
When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I‘m in this Oval Office. Self-defense is not only our right, it is our duty.
These are the boys of Point du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent and these are the heroes who helped end a war.
This morning at 7:00 a.m., the union representing those who man America‘s air traffic control facilities called a strike. If they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.
I regret to say we‘re in the worst economic mess since the Great Depression.
May I say that this is the first time I‘ve given the medal of freedom with the intuition that the recipient might take it home, melt it down, and turn it into something that can be sold to help the poor.
Tomorrow when mountains great the dawn, you go out there and win one for the Gipper.
You members of the graduating class of 1981 -- I don‘t really go back that far.
I didn‘t know about any diversion of funds to the Contras but as president I cannot escape responsibility.
We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.
The way I see it, there were two great triumphs, two things that I‘m proudest of, one is the economic recovery in which the people of America created and filled 19 million new jobs. The other is the recovery of our morale. America is respected again in the world and looked to for leadership. So, goodbye, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.
HOLT: The words of the late Ronald Reagan. And Doris Kearns Goodwin, as we‘re listening to that, that covers so much history in those little bits of speeches. But we were talking about, a moment ago, young people, helping them understand why this is such a historic moment. I find with my teenage boys trying to explain to them what the Cold War was about and I‘m at a loss for words. But this was a man who stared down the Soviets at a very critical time in our history. And then along comes Mikhail Gorbachev and they were able to start to form treaties and to start to find a conversation. What would have happened if there had been no Mikhail Gorbachev? Do you ever ask that question?
GOODWIN: That‘s a great question because a leaders‘ ability to move in the world depends on who‘s out there on the other side. Suppose we‘d had a much harder-nosed Russian leader at that time who responded to our arms buildup with an even greater arms buildup. And then, maybe the whole country fell apart and then they didn‘t take it forward as Gorbachev did.
Remember Lyndon Johnson used to say wishfully, he wished that he had Khrushchev as his guy because he could have gotten along with him as opposed to Brezhnev.
Franklin Roosevelt had Churchill as his ally. Who comes together at any time? And that‘s an accident of history. But these two guys together, Gorbachev picking up the pieces when the Soviet Union was beginning to fall apart and moving it in a forward direction helped Reagan‘s legacy without a question.
HOLT: And we‘re happy to have General Barry McCaffrey still with us here, who served under the commander-in-chief, Ronald Reagan.
And General McCaffrey, during that period in which Ronald Reagan was essentially staring down the Soviet bear, if you will, it was a time of high tension. Did you, as a soldier, as a warrior, ever wonder where is this going?
MCCAFFREY: Yes, I sure did. You know I was a battalion executive officer and battalion commander in the mid 70‘s in Germany, and at the time, looking at it objectively, I thought we were going in the wrong direction, that sometime in the coming five or 10 years we were going to get run out of Europe. We had become paralyzed by this Soviet colossus and we didn‘t seem to be able to mobilize ourselves politically, economically, or militarily.
It started changing, Lester, in ‘81. Now, there‘s lots of reasons for that, most of them involving the inherent internal contradictions of communism. But President Reagan came in and seemed to speak for America and it certainly swept through the Armed Forces a renewed sense of confidence in what we could accomplish.
HOLT: And in many ways, the way—in the way that President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon. He came—Doris and General McCaffrey, came with this challenge of this, what the critics dubbed Star Wars, but the strategic defense initiative, this ability to defend against Soviet missiles. Would—did that ultimately just spin the Russians out of the Cold War business?
GOODWIN: Well, clearly their bureaucratic structure and their economy was not working, but I think there‘s no question that it pushed them over the cliff. The general and I were talking about this before. It‘s not even clear how much Star Wars was ever real, but the idea that it was out there must have made the Soviet Union feel we cannot compete and then falling apart.
HOLT: And then, of course, communism in this hemisphere, and General McCaffrey, and as well as Doris, the Iran-Contra affair was probably the darkest stain on the eight-year legacy of that presidency, trying to fund the Contras through these arm sales to Iran. Was that part, again—does that tap into that whole—that fervent anti-communism?
GOODWIN: Well, there was a sense that he was going to try to stop communism wherever it reared its head in any part of the world. And it meant, however, by going into the Iran-Contra thing without the full understanding by Congress of what he was doing, you can‘t deceive a country and you can‘t deceive a Congress at a time of Democratic systems...
HOL: General McCaffrey?
MCCAFFREY: Well, yes, no question, although I think Iran-Contra—there are probably two things involved in that. One was, there was—clearly a sense on the part of many in Congress and in the country that what he was doing was the right thing but at the same time, I think, one of the reasons he survived that experience was this enormous reservoir of good will he had among the American people and in Congress. So yes, a very difficult part of his presidency, no question.
HOLT: And again, we continue to cover and look at the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan. This is a process that will take likely many days. There is so much for us to consider and so much that was a part of his eight years in the White House. President Reagan, of course, before being elected president in 1980 served two terms as governor of California. And of course, we know he was an actor as well. And we believe he was the first union president—he was the president of SAG, first union president to become president of the United States. The oldest man to take the top job at almost 70. I believe he was 69, and the oldest to leave at the age of 77.
Doris, give me your personal thoughts here as we try and absorb this. And forgive me if I get caught up in these policy questions because we‘re still absorbing this was the inevitable news. We knew this was coming and likely coming soon.
GOODWIN: You know one of the things I feel sad about is when you think how he left as such a beloved figure, what these 10 years might have been like for him if he had not had the Alzheimer‘s, to be able to look back on a tenure that had been so successful, to be able to tell stories. He was a great storyteller, how he could have enjoyed and how Nancy could have enjoyed these years. So it‘s such a loss for both of them.
But you know the interesting thing when you mention that you‘ve got a young child is that the hope maybe is that the combination of this D-Day celebration and now Ronald Reagan‘s death will bring to a younger audience now the combination of World War II and the Cold War, these two huge events of the last century.
I saw some statistics that even in Britain, with all the D-day, a majority of people did not know when D-Day happened. They thought it happened in 1962. Young people, 25 and younger, they thought that the prime minister was not Churchill but was Tony Blair‘s grandfather. And they thought it happened in Japan not Paris and not in Normandy. So I mean it‘s just so much to be learned. And I just hope that we can use this combination of this passing of this larger than life figure and the D-Day celebration to bring to a younger generation these huge events of the Cold War and World War II.
HOLT: Well, and we‘ve been hearing throughout the day segments of Ronald Reagan‘s speech at Point du Hoc in France. It was 20 years ago, celebrating the 40th anniversary of D-Day, and now, world leaders are gathered there again. NBC‘s Tom Brokaw, of course, has been covering that for us. He joins us late evening in France in Normandy at the American Cemetery.
Tom, give us your thoughts of the news that Ronald Reagan passed.
BROKAW: We‘re on the air, Peter.
Well, I‘ve been covering Ronald Reagan since 1966. Actually, I met him in the late 1950‘s and the early 1960‘s. I feel like I‘m a product of his lifetime in public life. When I first joined NBC in 1966 I was assigned to his campaign because as the junior member, they wanted me to be with a candidate who they thought was going nowhere. After he swept America twice as governor of California, twice as president of the United States, I did the final interview with him in the Oval Office, and we went out into the Rose Garden and he said with a twinkle in his eye, “Tom, I wanted to have our picture taken together because I remember when you were there at the beginning in 1966 and it‘s worked out pretty well for both of us, hasn‘t it?”
Well, this is a man—this is a man who came to Normandy on the 40th anniversary of D-Day and as you hear the fireworks behind me tonight, on the eve of the 60th anniversary, the speech that resonates down through the agents is the speech that Ronald Reagan gave talking about the boys of Pont du Hoc, the Rangers who scaled the cliffs and began the liberation of Europe. And tonight when word came that Ronald Reagan had died, I was having dinner with one of those boys of Point du Hoc, Len Beaumel (ph), who won the Distinguished Service Cross for going up those cliffs, going back and taking out two German artillery guns, and we all raised a glass to him. Walt Alers, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, Andy Rooney, who was here covering D-Day for “Stars and Stripes,” and then Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who made “Saving Private Ryan,” the emblematic film of that time, and everybody felt there had been a great loss not just in American life but on the world stage of a leader who, however, you felt about his ideology fulfilled whatever office he was elected to, twice by landslide as governor of California, twice by landslide as president of the United States—Lester.
HOLT: And Tom, when he spoke, when he attended those 40th anniversary celebrations of D-Day, did he not become really the first American president, modern time, to begin to mark that date in a large way?
BROKAW: He did. Obviously, there had been earlier celebrations of d-day but they had been lost, I think, in the rush to build the modern America. It was on the 40th anniversary in 1984, that we began to realize as a nation and as a culture and as succeeding generations just how much we owed that generation.
I was listening to Doris talk earlier about this larger than life figure and what he meant to succeeding generations. Again it‘s important to point out, however you felt about political ideology; Ronald Reagan was a president of the United States in every inch of his being. I knew at the time that he was serving in office many of the people who were his principal assistants in the White House and they were always so taken with his strength of belief even though he would often begin his staff meetings in the mornings by saying, “Does anybody here have any good news stories for me?” He was always user-friendly to his staff. But when it came to what he believed in, Ronald Reagan knew exactly who he was, a child of small town Illinois, whose father was an alcoholic, a young man who worked his way through college and then became a broadcasting star in the Midwest, a contract movie star, after the war, the highest-paid movie star. A lot of people don‘t realize this: in the post war years, before he went to work for General Electric as the spokesman, and then began his ascendancy to political life. He began life as a liberal and then became a conservative and became the progenitor of the modern conservative generation.
HOLT: And you note, Tom, that the landslide political victories he had, but he did have his detractors. How was—was the power of personality something that transpired his politics. We now about the Reagan Democrats. Talk about the power of his personality.
BROKAW: I want to remind everyone that we‘re hearing the fireworks in the background here at D-Day because tomorrow is the 60th anniversary. Jacques Chirac and President Bush will speak in ceremonies commemorating the American role, which was the principal role here at 9:30 French time tomorrow morning.
You know his personality did transcend his politics. I remember the frustration of many liberal Democrats, when in his first term; America went into a sharp recession. Unemployment was very high. Ronald Reagan went to Southy in South Boston. And in South, he went into a pub and emerged with a lot of people who were out of work and they raised with him a stein of beer and toasted America. And the Democrats knew at that moment just what they were up against.
A lot of people forget, Lester, that up until the closing weeks of his campaign against Jimmy Carter, the polls all indicated it was still a 50-50 nation. But then, when he had that first debate with President Carter and said, “There you go again,” and “are you better off now than you were four years ago,” America had found a new political hero. And he stayed its political hero for the next eight years through many travails and many trials and lots of times when people were not entirely confident that he was in control of the Oval Office. But he always won when Election Day came around.
HOLT: Tom, one of your conversations with President Reagan was in 1989. We‘ve pulled a part of that and I‘d like to play it. Here it is.
BROKAW: When you arrived in Hollywood, who were the big stars that you remember seeing that really made an impression on you?
R. REAGAN: Oh, well, this was in the wonderful era of Hollywood that exists no more, the era when the seven major studios all had their list of contract players and stars. Their directors were under contract, the producers and writers. It was like a family in the studio. And at Warner Brothers, that was Jimmy Cagney and Pat O‘Brien and Bette Davis. And Wayne Morris had just become a young, new star there in—for “Kid Galahad” that he had made. But—and Dick Powell and Jack Carson, and you can go along with the trying to think of them all at the same time. But you‘d eat there in the commissary at lunch and they were all around you and be at the same table with you. It was a wonderful time.
HOLT: Boy, in that 57 seconds we get a sense of the rich and colorful life he had. And Tom, I have to ask, if you have ever sensed that subsequent presidents, Presidents Bush and President Clinton, found something in Ronald Reagan that they tried to bring as their own?
BROKAW: I remember Ronald Reagan, who loved his role in Hollywood, and I always believed that those years of training served him well as a politician. But I also remember having lunch with Bill Clinton and I don‘t think he‘ll mind me breaking this confidence on this occasion, and he said to me, “God I wish I had known Ronald Reagan. I would have liked to have known him better.” It was one great politician talking about another great politician.
And on this occasion, of course, we‘ll always be effusive about the larger-than-life characteristics of Ronald Reagan. The fact is he drove a lot of people crazy, that he was simply too conservative for a lot of the liberals in America and that he took much too a conservative a point-of-view in his governance. At the same time, I personally belief that Ronald Reagan drew a line, not just in the sand, but drew a line against the continuing encroachment of communism and when he said, “This is an evil empire. Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall down,” that the Russians knew that they were dealing with a new power in Washington.
So he was a complex man. A lot of people didn‘t know him personally very well. Of all the people that I have known who‘ve known him over the years, they always said there was an inner Ronald Reagan that they were not able to penetrate. But he had a great, great conviction about his own personal point-of-view and he had an amazing ability to convey that to the American people.
HOLT: He did. And when we think, Tom, about some of his more amazing, compelling poignant speeches they were at times of national tragedy: after the Marine barracks bombing. We will all remember the words, those of us old enough, that he spoke at the memorial for the Challenger astronauts. He had an amazing way of holding America‘s hand at a time of crisis. What were your senses of those kinds of moments in Ronald Reagan?
BROKAW: I think that they were heartfelt. I don‘t think that he was reading from a script. I think that he was speaking from the heart. This was a man who really did believe in Norman Rockwell‘s America. He used to talk in the most heartfelt way about a city shining on the hill. Sometimes that clouded his ability to understand the harsh reality of what was going on in the country. There‘s a famous story about Tip O‘Neill going to him and saying something about the unemployed and the disadvantaged, and Ronald Reagan saying to the—something to the effect, “Give me their names and phone numbers, I want to call them.” And Tip O‘Neill was saying, “No, I‘m talking, Mr. President, about a whole class of people here.”
So he lived his own life and sometimes he lived a life that didn‘t always relate to everyone else. There was a kind of fantasy quality about Ronald Reagan but he was able to convey that.
Let me just say something else, if I may about Nancy Reagan. I‘ve known the two of them for a long, long time. I was a political journalist beginning, as I said, in 1966. We had some terrible clashes along the way. It never particularly bothered the president, but Nancy was his fierce protector. And I must say, on her behalf, in the last eight or nine years, I know what a terrible struggle this has been for her, but what a great tribute it is to her how much she was devoted to him, how much she loved him. Anyone who questioned Nancy Reagan‘s loyalty to Ronald Reagan will only have to look at the last eight years this ordeal in her life and she never complained. She never shuddered. She never said, “This is not the job that I signed on for.” She was devoted to him, to his dying breath. And we must pay tribute to Nancy Reagan tonight as well.
HOLT: And Tom, we were all touched by the letter that President Reagan wrote in 1994 in which he publicly acknowledged that he was entering the struggle with Alzheimer‘s. Would you have expected anything less than that kind of public acknowledgment in such eloquent, poignant words?
BROKAW: No, that was so typical of Ronald Reagan and it came just at a time when the Democrats from a political point-of-view thought that they were going to gain some advantage. And he went to America and said, “I have Alzheimer‘s disease and I want you to know that.” And he shared with him, as he had so much of his life, including his father‘s alcoholism and his earlier struggles. He was the essential American for a lot of people, I think, especially of his generation. And we‘ll leave it to future historians to determine his final place in American history. But I think, as Doris has indicated earlier tonight, and she‘s much better qualified to do this than I am, that from a contemporary point-of-view, no one, no one can dispute the fact that Ronald Reagan was an enormous figure on the American stage and on the world stage, not just for the eight years that he served a governor of California and president of the United States, but also for all that he represented to succeeding generations who believed in him and in his ideology.
HOLT: And it was 20 years ago exactly that President Ronald Reagan spoke just a few miles from where you are, Tom, at Point du Hoc, in one of his more memorable, eloquent speeches. I‘d like to play just a couple of minutes of that. Here it is.
R. REAGAN: We stand on a lonely, wind swept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion, to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The allies had been told that some of mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the allied advance. The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades and the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing.
Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms. And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs and before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Point du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
HOLT: President Reagan exactly 20 years ago at Point du Hoc, France where today they celebrate the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. NBC‘S Tom Brokaw continues to talk with us from the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. And that speech, again, as we‘ve said so many times, is one of the more memorable.
And Tom, you traveled overseas on that trip. You had been overseas with President Reagan before. How was he perceived in Europe?
BROKAW: Actually, I think that he received more favorable attention than he did often in his own country. I also remember a speech that he made in Westminster, in England, about the meaning of liberty and certainly, to Eastern Europe when it was still behind the Iron Curtain, he was a beacon of hope. And we can all remember that memorable time when met in Switzerland with Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the modern and fresh new face of the Soviet Union, and they had those famous fireside chats in which we had a new era between America and what we used to call the Soviet Union. And President Reagan was determined to bring that down.
And to go back to the boys of Point du Hoc, as I said just a few moments ago, I was having dinner tonight when word came that Ronald Reagan had died, with Leonard “Bud” Lamel (ph), who was one of the boys of Point du Hoc. And as we raised our glasses to him, Len said, “We must never forget the speech that he gave here at Normandy on the 40th anniversary.” And I think that that speech in Ronald Reagan‘s time and forever more here on any anniversary of D-Day will live and resonate in the hearts and minds not just of those Rangers and their families but of the people who were liberated here as well. We‘ll celebrate that tomorrow as well.
HOLT: And one of many fitting tributes, no doubt. NBC‘S Tom Brokaw in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France.
Tom, thank you very much. We appreciate you coming on with us.
BROKAW: My pleasure, Lester. I must say that I‘ve lived most of my adult life with Ronald Reagan and somehow I felt that he would never die. And my deepest and most heartfelt sympathies tonight to Nancy Reagan and all the members of that family.
HOLT: And I know it‘s appreciated. We‘ll see you back home soon.
We are covering the death of President Reagan who passed away at his home in Bel Air, California earlier this afternoon. A little over an hour ago is when we received the initial word that the former president had passed after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer‘s. And only in the last 24 to 36 hours did we learn that that battle was, in fact, nearing its end.
I‘m Lester Holt at MSNBC World Headquarters. And we continue our coverage of this historic day. And I‘m joined again by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian and MSNBC analyst as well.
Tom made some interesting points. We talked a bit about Ronald Reagan‘s political influence on his—on those who would follow him. Who were his political influences?
GOODWIN: Well, you know the thing that‘s so interesting is that when he was a young man, he thought of Franklin Roosevelt as a hero. And when you think about it, even though Roosevelt is a liberal icon and now Reagan is a conservative icon, the two men shared a lot of things. They were both incredibly confident. They both loved begin president. They both filled the office of the presidency. They both were men who lots of people didn‘t know very well, even though everybody could feel their jovial, optimistic temperament, so that in a lot of ways it shows that politics, even when you have different ideology, when you‘ve got the qualities of a leader, there‘s a similarity between them even if they take the country in very different directions.
HOLT: Did Ronald Reagan change our expectations of the president, not just politically but in term of his style of leading?
GOODWIN: Well, I think it brought us back after a period. Think about what had preceded Ronald Reagan. I mean you had had Jimmy Carter who had difficulty establishing a relationship with the American people, however, wonderful he‘s been as a post president. You had had the Nixon debacle. You had had Lyndon Johnson before that, and then you had the killing of John Kennedy. So when Ronald Reagan came in and seemed to love being president, again, it wasn‘t one of these offices that oh, this is a difficult office to be in, and he made people feel that the presidency was something to be proud of, somehow the song, “Hail To The Chief,” fit him even more than it did these previous presidents. You could just feel him strutting around, belonging to that song.
HOLT: But all the accounts, he was wasn‘t a hard-charger. This was a man who would take time to look at the pigeons out in the Rose Garden, who would take time to take a nap every day and that stunned some in Washington.
GOODWIN: Well, I think that—I think presidents have to figure out how to relax and replenish their energies. It‘s what makes them stronger. Franklin Roosevelt used to have a cocktail party every hour—not every hour—every night where the rule was you couldn‘t talk about the war. You couldn‘t talk about the Depression. And I think Reagan understood that in order to sustain one‘s spirits, you have to take time off. But I think sometimes we get these hard-driving presidents like Lyndon Johnson who felt he could never take a vacation. You didn‘t feel like Clinton relaxed very much in office either.
HOLT: And Doris, I‘ve just been handed a statement that has come from former first lady Nancy Reagan. It was relayed by her chief of staff. It‘s very brief and I‘ll read it. “My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away after 10 years of Alzheimer‘s disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone‘s prayers.” A very brief statement, and Tom—Doris, Tom had made very eloquent remarks on his own about Nancy Reagan. She was seen by some as a lightning rod within his administration, but talk about though these last 10 years and how even her, the perception of her may have changed?
GOODWIN: Oh, I mean think about, here was a woman who had been so active in social and political life for such a long period of time, obviously derived pleasure from that larger life. And she led a pretty cocooned life to be with her husband and not be out running around. I think, however, what was said earlier is interesting. There‘s probably a greater independence in her now than there was before. It happened to Eleanor Roosevelt after Franklin Roosevelt died. She no longer could depend on him so she had to become more of her own person as a politician. And Nancy Reagan has stepped out more in these last few years. And it‘ll be interesting to see if her health allows her too. But she may become much more visible as a public figure than she would have otherwise been.
HOLT: And as we had noted earlier in our coverage that there are—there was a protocol, a series of events that would take place on word of President Reagan‘s death. He will initially be taken to a funeral home and ultimately his body will be taken to a Presbyterian church, the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, where it will lay in state for 24 hours. Then President Reagan‘s body will be flown to Washington where likely at the National Cathedral, he will lie in state for about two to three days, and then back to California. The president will be laid to rest at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley at sunset. And we‘re told the entire process should take about a week. A long period of mourning has begun in this country about a man who had significant impact on this country and the 20th century.
Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan inspired Normandy. As you saw in that clip a moment ago, as well as the world with his words of tribute to those who fought and died on that soil, tat soil that we look at now, 60 years later. The speech he gave was inspired by a young woman whose dad survived the Battle of Omaha but didn‘t live long enough to return to the cliffs he stormed. It‘s been a love of a daughter and the words of a great president; one citizen soldier‘s story was forever immortalized. Here‘s MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough.
R. REAGAN: Men bled and died here for a few feet of—or inches of sand as bullets and shell fire cut through their ranks. About them, General Omar Bradley later said, “Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.”
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Reagan delivered these moving words at the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984, addressing the few survivors who could return.
R. REAGAN: Some who survived the battle of June 6, 1944 are here today. Others who hoped to return never did.
SCARBOROUGH: This was a deeply personal speech for the president not only because it was at a place where so many Americans had died, but because of its inspiration.
R. REAGAN: “Some day, Liz, I‘ll go back,” said Private First Class Peter Robert Zenada of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion and first assault wave to hit Omaha Beach. “I‘ll go back and I‘ll see it all again.”
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘ll see the beach, the barricades and the graves. I‘ll put a flower on the graves of the guys I knew.
SCARBOROUGH: It started with a letter.
R. REAGAN: Those words of Private Zenada come to us from his daughter, Lisa Zenada Hind (ph), in a heartrending story about the event her father spoke of so often. In his words, “the Normandy invasion would change his life forever,” she said. She tells some of his stories of World War II, but says of her father, the story to end all stories was D-Day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know my dad also wanted to go back. That was his big thing. When he would tell us about D-Day, that someday he was going to go back and he was going to walk along the beach. And he was going to put flowers on the graves. That was really important to him that he someday go back and walk that beach but he never got a chance to.
SCARBOROUGH: Private First Class Peter Robert Zenada died in 1976. He never got to see the graves, lay flowers and walk the beach again. But he managed to get to the beach in his own way.
R. REAGAN: Private Zenada‘s daughter wrote to me, “I don‘t know how or why I can feel this emptiness, this fear, or this determination, but I do. Maybe it‘s the bond I had with my father. All I know is that it brings tears to my eyes to think about my father as a 20-year-old boy having to face that beach.”
PEGY NOONAN, FORMER REAGAN STAFF MEMBER: There are turning points in human history, great battles in human history. There are these moments when years later you look back at them and you can see what they were. You can see that human beings acted in an exalted manner.
SCARBOROUGH: Peggy Noonan, who was on Reagan‘s staff at the time, remembers how profoundly the president was affected by his time in Normandy.
NOONAN: They moved forward with courage and they were valiant. And they were inspiring in part I think because they were just average humans. When we think back to these battles, when we think back to D-Day and what was done there, it gives us a higher sense of who we small human beings are. We can do great things. We can hold together. We can take that mountain. We can change history.
SCARBOROUGH: For Lisa Zenada Hind (ph), hearing the president say your dad‘s name on the beach where he nearly died for his country was a fitting tribute for her hero.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then the president came out and started his speech and then I remember hearing my dad‘s name, you know. You know, Private First Class Peter Robert Zenada, and I‘m thinking, oh my God, he‘s given me the greatest gift. I mean he‘s made my dad immortal.
SCARBOROUGH: The president‘s speech helped to assure Lisa that her father‘s memory would live on. And now, she focuses on her kids, to try to pass on the stories to them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want them to know so that they never forget. I mean my dad talked about not just D-Day and World War II but he talked about the Holocaust and all that stuff. We knew probably more than any other kid in the neighborhood. We knew it all. And I‘m making sure that my kids know it all because it‘s that saying, if you don‘t learn your history, you‘re destined to repeat it,” and my kids know their history.
R. REAGAN: Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far better than any president can. It is enough for us to say about Private Zenada and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside him four decades ago, we will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared so we may be always free.
SCARBOROUGH: A message which would have made Private Robert Zenada proud.
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