Corps loses friend with Reagan's passing
By Sgt. Ethan E. Rocke
| | June 18, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
A handful of Marines helped bid a final farewell to one of the Corps' long-time friends and allies last week as former President Ronald Reagan was laid to rest at his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., June 11.
Artillery Marines from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, joined the Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company, Marine Barracks, 8th and I, Washington D.C., to represent the Corps in the interment service.
The 2/11 Marines fired a 21-gun salute during the ceremony, and the 8th and I Marines served as riflemen in the color and honor guards and also as casket carriers.
"We're all very honored to be here and do this for our president," said Sgt. Rodolfo Vargas, section chief, Co. G, 2/11, after the service. "For many of the new Marines, this is the most important thing they've ever done in the Corps."
In one of his speeches, Reagan said, "Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. Marines don't have that problem." It was this type of affection toward the armed services, coupled with Reagan's increased defense spending that made him popular among Marines.
"Most Marines have allegiance to and respect for their commander in chief regardless of political party," said Depot Commanding General Brig. Gen. John M. Paxton Jr. "Our respect increases when we feel the commander in chief understands and appreciates our service. President Reagan certainly did. In addition, he reinstilled in the American public a sense of optimism and a sense of vitality for America's future."
The Marines involved in the ceremony were part of an elaborate joint-service team made up of dozens of service members.
The Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard all provided troops for the ceremonial guard as well as casket carrying detail.
The Air Force Band of the Golden West from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and the U.S. Army Chorus from Fort Myer, Va., provided the music for the ceremony, performing traditional songs such as "Amazing Grace," "Hail to the Chief" and "God of Our Fathers."
The Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment from Fort Myer, Va., provided a firing party, which fired three seven-shot volleys over Reagan's grave just before an Army bugler played Taps.
Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadrons 122 and 125, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., conducted a flyover in "Missing Man" formation after the bugler played Taps.
Navy Capt. James A. Symonds, commander, USS Ronald Reagan, presented the folded flag, which draped Reagan's casket, to Reagan's wife, Nancy.
The traditional military formalities and musical ensembles at the ceremony helped set a somber tone, but the most touching moments came from the words of remembrance Reagan's children offered.
"Nearly at the onset of Alzheimer's disease, my father and I would tell each other we loved each other and gave each other a hug. As the years went by and he could no longer verbalize my name, he recognized me as the man who hugged him. So when I would walk into the house, he would be there in his chair, opening up his arms for that hug," said son Michael Reagan.
All the Reagan children's speeches held a theme of optimism, keeping faith in the belief that their father had gone to a better place and was now "home" and "free."
"Those of us who knew him well will have no trouble imagining his paradise," said son Ron Reagan. "Golden fields will spread beneath the blue dome of a Western sky. Live oaks will shadow the rolling hillsides ... He will rest in the shade of trees."
Daughter Patti Davis said her father never feared death nor saw it as an ending.
"When I was a child, he took me out into a field in a ranch after one of the Malibu fires had swept through. I was very small and the field looked huge and lifeless, but he bent down and showed me how tiny new green shoots were picking up out of the ashes just weeks after the fire had come through. 'You see,' he said, 'new life always comes out of death. It looks like nothing could ever grow out of this field again, but things do."
The sunset ceremony brought to a close five days of services and ceremonies, which took Reagan's body from southern California to the nation's capital and back again. During the week of mourning, Americans came from all over the nation to pay their respects to Reagan, some of them visiting the presidential library, where Reagan's flag-draped casket lay on display for two days before being flown to the nation's capital, where it lay in state for two more days.
Friday morning Reagan was honored with a state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Dignitaries from all over the nation and the world attended the ceremony, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Former General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bush. Immediately following the ceremony, Reagan's body and his family were flown back to California for the final sunset ceremony in Simi Valley.