There’s reading about U.S. history in a textbook, and then there’s hearing about U.S. history, from history itself. This past weekend, I had the extreme honor of speaking with Michael Reagan, son of former U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, about how in honor of Veteran’s Day, the Reagan Legacy Foundation, is working to not just keep his father’s legacy alive, but to keep our history thriving.
Michael Reagan, son to former U.S. President, Ronald Reagan / Photo Credit: Reagan Legacy Foundation
“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. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”
–Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States
The Reagan Legacy Foundation
Photo Credit: The Reagan Legacy Foundation
When President Reagan won the presidential election in 1980, there were 56 democracies in the world. When he left office in 1989, there were 76. By 1994, there were 114. This explosion in freedom and democracy was a dream of Ronald Reagan’s, and a historic achievement of his presidency.
What inspired you to create the Reagan Legacy Foundation
It came about after the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), back in the early 2000’s. She was the first ship to be named after a former president, still alive at the time. Our family decided it wouldn’t be right for us to not support those who have served aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. I felt a weighted presence is needed on that ship.
The best way to do that, was to create a scholarship program where through the Foundation, we would write scholarships for those men and women who served aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. But, we wanted to take it a step further, and also provide scholarships to their family members.
We always say “god bless the military, or god love the military,” but if you’re married or your family member is sitting aboard an aircraft carrier or serving in Iraq, those family members are just as valuable and prestigious as their loved ones serving.
A Family Man
When the ship needs a new altar or chapel, the Foundation helps raise money to build it, or we find someone to help donate those items. If they need computers for the computer rooms, we get it for them. The government doesn’t buy these things, but our Foundation helps provide a means to acquire them.
Michael Reagan passing out scholarships on-board the USS Reagan
I asked Reagan what the Foundation’s biggest challenge is, to this day:
“If everyone who told me they supported Ronald Reagan gave me a dollar, I’d never have to worry about raising money for the scholarship program,” Reagan told me. “But, there’s a lot of people out there who say, ‘I love Ronald Reagan, or I supported Ronald Reagan,’ but their pockets are empty when I ask them for their help with the scholarship program.”
“It also becomes a battle because of my name,” he added. “People believe that I have lived a life where I haven’t needed to work or have to worry about money, because I was given everything. This isn’t true.”
“My parents weren’t like that. In fact, my parents raised me to work for everything I have. At ten years old, I took a loan out from my mother, in order for her to buy me a bicycle I wanted. She made me sign a promissory note with her, at ten years old. I had to get a job selling and delivering newspapers in order to pay her back for that loan.
I asked my mom why she was doing this, because we lived in Beverly Hills, and the other kids were getting their bikes for nothing. She looked at me and said ‘because I build men, I don’t build boys.’ Greatest lesson I ever received.”
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
On November 9, 1989, as the Cold War was strengthening across Eastern Europe, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party announced
a change in his city’s relations with the West. That night, citizens of East Germany (GDR
) were free to cross the country’s borders, with thousands of East and West Berliners flocking to the wall, crossing its checkpoints.
While lots of candidates were given credit for bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall, one name was never mentioned for having had any influence—Ronald Reagan. “It was almost as if the man who stood at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, and declared ‘tear down this wall’ didn’t exist,” as reported in The American Spectator
The Ronald Reagan Room
“Through my speaking gigs, I continue running into things that cause me to expand the Foundation,” Regan explained.
“Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was in Berlin; there was not one mention of my father, anywhere. I ran into a high school student and asked him what he knew of the Berlin Wall. He told me that ‘the Americans tore it up to keep the communists at bay.’ I said, really? I must’ve missed that part in my history class.”
But, Reagan told me this was the very moment he realized he needed to take action.
“I went over to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and met with Alexandra Hildebrand. On the 20th
anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, we christened the Ronald Reagan Room
at the Museum, which is now the number one visited museum in all of Berlin.
How long did it take to implement this?
It took three or four years. But now when you go there, there’s a Ronald Reagan room, where you can learn about him. To mark the anniversary of his speech, a bronze plaque was placed at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987, which was unveiled and sponsored by the Foundation.
The Battle of Normandy
On June 6, 1944
, also known as “D-Day”, the Western Allies of World War II, launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy with over 156,000 American, British, and Candian forces, landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normany region. By late August 1944, all of northern France had been liberated, and by the following spring, the Allies had completely liberated Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.
“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next.” –Ronald Reagan
Normandy’s American Cemetery
Reagan told me that about eight years ago, he was invited to raise the flag at the Normandy American Cemetery
. The Cemetery was established by the U.S. First Army in 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II.
“I was playing golf with a 28-year-old young man, and we were talking shop. I told him I was so jazzed because I was flying to Paris the following day, and he looked up at me and asked what for. It old him that I was driving to the Cemetery and was asked to raise the flag. He looked at me and asked, ‘why is there an American cemetery in Normandy?’ I went, you’re kidding, right?”
“There’s just no concept on why there’s an American Cemetery in Normandy, and it was for this reason, I thought about what we as the Foundation could do to help remember my father. I went over to the Airborne Museum, located in the heart of Sainte Mere Eglise, Normandy. We helped put a video and exhibit together, commemorating the 70th
anniversary of the D-Day invasion, to help those leave the Museum with a better understanding of not just my father’s view of the allied troops and their permanent place in France’s history, but belief about the importance of liberty for all of mankind.
In 2015, we built the Ronald Reagan Center in conjunction with the Airborne Museum, so conferences can be had. That’s what we do, we find projects and we fund them.”
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Both Reagan and I have done our fair share of traveling. I told the Foundation’s president that as part of my collegiate experience, I traveled the world on Semester At Sea
, to over twelve different countries, which provided me with a sense of global competence and awareness as to the world around me.
What question do you get asked the most?
I get asked often where my favorite place to travel or vacation is. If I had to pick a place right now for my wife and I to go, it would be Africa. I love the people of Kenya. For me, the worst part of Kenya, is leaving. You learn so much and we support a school of approximately 800, in Nairobi. Nobody has their hand out and they tell you, if you see someone with their hand out, don’t put anything in it.
There’s a school in the middle of this slum—they wear uniforms and are taught English. But what struck me most, is that they told us if we wanted to help them, we could help by bringing books, or things that help educate them, because that’s their only way out of the slum. And you’re sitting here wondering, why do they get it?
Through the ZanaAfrica Foundation, adolescent girls in Kenya are able to stay in school through the delivery of reproductive health education and sanitary pads. The school gives out over 400 pads a day, passing them out at the slums to the girls, because for 28 days, they have their menstrual cycle, and cannot attend school, and they don’t have anything to stop it. This is one of the reasons we support the school. We don’t ever think about these things here. They are singing and they are happy. They walk two or three kilometers to school and feel safe. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same today in our country.
“When you travel and see these things, and you see the rest of the world, and you get such a better understanding.” – Michael Reagan
Walking Two Moons In Reagan’s Shoes
I asked Reagan that if he had any lessons for our millennial generation, what would they be:
#1 –Find The Good
My father taught me this—find the good. In every man there is good, find it. We don’t do that anymore. I remember the first time I met former president, Barack Obama. We were at the opening of the George W. Bush library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The library had a private reception for First Family members and the first five sitting presidents, which was kind of cool.
The Obama’s knew I was in the room, and our president, at the time, knew how I felt about him politically. So, I sat there and thought to myself, what would my father have me do, right now? It would be to find the good.
So, I walked in the door, and I went up to him and he said, “Mike Reagan?” I said, “Mr. President, I want to tell you, I really appreciate the fact that of all your duties as President, and I understand those things, because of my life. But, what I really appreciate, is the fact that you never stopped being a father nor stopped being a husband. I think those are great messages that more families need to see. I just wanted to tell you I appreciate you for that.”
He looked at me and said, “thank you.” Find the good. We spend too much time trying to find the bad in everybody, and that’s what’s sad. You just have to do it, and if we don’t, it’s not going to get any better, it’s going to get worse day by day.
#2 –Learn to Forgive
I tell this story to everyone. My father, after he was shot by John Hinckley, Jr., before he went back to the White House to resume his duties, forgave Hinckley for trying to kill him. Three months later, Pope John Paul II was shot in Vatican City. Before he went back to resume his duties, he forgave Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill him.
Two or three months later, my father and Pope John Paul got together for the first time. They now had something which bonded them together. That bond, created the relationship and friendship that brought solidarity to Poland and ultimately brought the Berlin Wall down.
Walkway To Victory / Photo Credit: The Reagan Legacy Foundation
I am so happy with what we do with the Foundation and now the Walkway To Victory
. The Walkway officially opened on June 6, 2018, the 74th anniversary of D-Day. As a permanent exhibit at the Airborne Museum, the program will go on indefinitely. It will forever serve as a memorial and tribute to all those who fought in WWII.
By purchasing a brick, individuals can commemorate those men and women who saved the world in WWII. Visitors can walk over these bricks, and read the year they served, for all of eternity. The funds are split between the AIrborne Museum for maintenance, and the RLF.
Joining The Movement
For those interested in honoring those veterans and purchasing a brick, please visit the Normandy Memorial Brick Program
. The Walkway has sections dedicated to athletes and Hollywood actors and directors who put their careers on hold to serve in WWII. Figures include:
- Clark Gable
- Jimmy Stewart
- Ronald Reagan
- Audie Murphy
- Henry Fonda
- Ted Williams
- Stan Musial
- Joe DiMaggio
- Yogi Berra
- Bob Feller
To learn more about the Airborne Museum, please visit its website