Today, as America witnesses another peaceful transfer of power, on this the 57th Presidential Inauguration Day since 1789, giving Barack Obama his last four-year lease on power, it's instructive to listen to newly minted President Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Address, preceded by his swearing in, on January 20, 1981.
In retrospect, now more than ever, it's clear President Reagan was one of the giants of American history, about whom he spoke that day, choking up when he recounted the story of one brave American soldier.
This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on the West Front of the Capitol.
Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man. George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Beyond those moments -- those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.
Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, the Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.
Under one such a marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the Western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire. We’re told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words: "America must win this war. Therefore, I will work; I will save; I will sacrifice; I will endure; I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone."But, President Reagan wasn't born a giant. He started out, like all of us, as a little tike, first in Tampico, Illinois (est. pop: 900), where he was born on February 6, 1911, and lived until age three.
|"Dutch" Reagan circa 1914. Photo of photo taken at|
Birthplace of President Ronald Reagan Museum.
Not long after the above photo was taken, his father Jack would lose his job as general manager at Pitney's General Store, after it was sold. So he packed up and moved his family to Chicago (est. pop. 2.2 million) on December 15, 1914, where he got a job at Marshall Field and the Mayfair annex on the South Side.
It was in Chicago that Reagan's first and strongest memories were formed and his winning personality shaped more definitively. He survived near-fatal pneumonia and decided he would be a fire-fighter, by golly, as he looked out his big front window and watched the horse-drawn fire engines galloping furiously down the street. Unbeknownst to his neighbors on E. 57th Street, he was being formed to fight fires, only the fires he would put out were of a bigger, geopolitical nature.
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago Home continues to work vigorously according to our corporate purpose statement, included in the "It Can Be Done" post.
God Bless America!
Mary Claire Kendall
Friends of President Reagan's Chicago