Requiem for a Heavyweight:

A Tribute to Ronald Reagan

        Politics and history have been two of my life-long passions and I have spent much of my life studying and teaching them.  I especially enjoy visiting

historic places, museums, and memorials.  The first presidential election I remember was that of 1952, and the first presidential death was President
Kennedy’s in 1963.   His was the first state funeral I watched on television, and then in

1965 I watched the British say farewell in grand fashion to Sir Winston Churchill.   There had been no state funeral in the United States since that for former President Lyndon Johnson in 1973, so when

former president Ronald Reagan died and a state funeral was announced, I resolved to go to Washington to see it firsthand.   It was an experience I will never forget.

        I arrived in Washington on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 9 and immediately made my way to the nearest Metro station.  It had rained and the temperature was in the high 90’s, so the discomfort level was high.  I had been in contact by telephone with a former student now working in Washington, Brandon Kirkham of Reidland, KY; his assistance was invaluable and his friendship is highly treasured.  He met me when I got off the Metro and we took a brisk walk to the intersection of Constitution and Fourth to watch the procession.  While waiting for the cortege I was interviewed by Norwegian television.  The young man asked me why Reagan is highly regarded and I gave him the following answers: (1) his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; (2) his revival of the American Presidency after a succession of failures; and (3) his revival of faith in the American economic and political system.
The first sign of the arrival of the cortege was faint band music in the distance.  As it became louder we could see the lights flashing on top of police cruisers and then a huge phalanx of motorcycle officers came into view.  The closer the cortege came, the quieter was the crowd, and when the caisson, pulled by the beautiful black horses carrying Mr. Reagan’s flag-draped casket, followed by the riderless horse with Mr. Reagan’s own brown riding boots backwards in the stirrups, went by, there was utter silence except for the sound of the horses’ hooves.  Some people saluted, some covered their heart, and some wept.  The riderless horse was appropriately frisky, as if searching for his missing master.
    Then suddenly 21 jet fighters appeared in the sky, first one, then four, another four, another four, and another four, and they were flying low so the noise was deafening.  Then the last four flew over, in the missing-man formation, and one pealed off straight upward.  Unnoticed by us, the cortege had kept moving forward, and by this time was close to the Capitol.
    We walked closer to the Capitol and soon heard the 21-gun salute.In the distance we could see Mr. Reagan’s casket being carried up the marble steps into the Capitol and we could hear, though faintly, the music of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”Everyone was quiet.
When that was concluded, we walked to the end of the line which had formed for entering the Rotunda.I was with Brandon and some of his friends, and they were a wonderful group of young people who welcomed me warmly.The crowd relaxed and realized how uncomfortable the weather was.ABC, NBC, and CNN news teams were set up nearby.Vendors were selling frozen bottled water and portable restrooms had been brought in.The line moved slowly but steadily.Brandon and friends took pictures before night fell.A most pleasant breeze appeared.  We had to go through security like that at an airport.No cameras, cellular phones or water bottles were allowed inside.
    After about four hours the time came to climb a marble staircase and pass through a parted black curtain to enter the Rotunda.The light was soft, the air was cool, the honor guards were as motionless as the nearby statues of Washington and Lincoln, and the people were silent, respectful, and reverent.The casket rested on the catafalque first made for Lincoln and kept in the Capitol crypt made for Washington.Again, some saluted, some put their hand over their heart, and some wept, but here some also prayed.I, for one, thanked God that Ronald Reagan had lived and that he was ours.Over 100,000 people had this experience, and another 100,000-plus had a similar experience at the Reagan Library in California, and every one of them will remember it as long as they live.We all knew we were in the presence of a very special man.
    We had to keep moving, so the time quickly came to leave this most holy place.As we left we were given a beautiful 4 x 6 engraved certificate as a memento of the occasion. We exited to an outer portico of the Capitol and could see Arlington National Cemetery in the distance, the Custis-Lee Mansion, and President Kennedy’s eternal flame.Tents had been set up where people could sign books of condolences.

    Though a sad occasion, it had been a good day.Ronald Reagan’s suffering was over and he had gone to the room in his Father’s house his Savior had prepared for him long ago.I had had what will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I had hoped for for over 40 years, and I spent the evening with an absolutely delightful group of young people who were nice enough at least to act like they enjoyed my stories.

On Thursday I spent the morning at the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian and the afternoon at the new World War II Memorial.I had never seen the Memorial, and it is very beautiful and very fitting.What I found especially noteworthy is that there are no statues of famous people such as Churchill, Roosevelt, Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur, or Patton.Quotes from famous people appear in various places, but there are no statues.It is truly a memorial to the “grunt” soldier, sailor, airman and Marine who did the fighting and dying.

Friday morning was cool and rainy and I got as close to the Washington National Cathedral as I could, which was about two blocks.Security was very tight and there was no air traffic during the funeral.I watched the cortege leave the Cathedral, the hearse, dozens of black limousines and cars, and notables such as Dr. Henry Kissinger, Bob Dole, and Bill Buckley.(I don’t know if they used the “right” door or not.)

An interesting event occurred during all this.Two young people, a man and a woman, saying they represented French television, came up to me and asked if they could ask me a few questions.I said, “Sure.”So, they asked me if I was disappointed or upset because French President Jacques Chirac had not attended Mr. Reagan’s funeral.(Recall that he had been in the United States that week for the G-8 Summit.)That was not a good subject to bring up with me at that time, and I gave them an answer they did not expect.  I said no, I was neither disappointed nor upset with President Chirac.I said I was glad he did not attend because his presence would have corrupted the dignity of the occasion.The young reporters obviously were disconcerted, but I continued that while they were in Washington, D.C. they should go down to Constitution Avenue (where we had been Wednesday evening) and take a good look at it.Then, when they return home, they could contemplate that no Germans had ever marched down that street, and no Japanese, and no Russians either.I concluded by saying that no Islamists would ever march down that street aswell.Having turned pale, the young French couple thanked me for my time and I told them it had been a pleasure answering their questions.

In 1962 a motion picture came out about an over-the-hill and fast-fading prize fighter named Mountain Rivera, played by Anthony Quinn.The film also starred Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney, and was written by Rod Serling.The film’s theme is Rivera’s valiant attempt to maintain his dignity in the deplorable and depressing situation in which he found himself, and its title was “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”I thought of that title as an excellent description of the events of last week, our nation’s farewell to Ronald Reagan; it was, indeed, a requiem for a heavyweight.

Of course, the “enlightened” Left, in the words of the late Clark Clifford, thought Reagan was an “amiable dunce” or worse, but the countless testimonies that appeared last  weekrevealed what those who cared to learn had known for years, an intelligent, well-read, good, kind, honest, caring, loving, eloquent and visionary man who changed the world for the better.Ronald Reagan alone did not end communism, but Ronald Reagan alone stood at the Berlin Wall and challenged Gorbachev to tear it down.Ronald Reagan, not Clark Clifford and his ilk, re-energized our economic and military engines and the office he occupied.Ronald Reagan, not Clark Clifford, called us to greatness, and it was Reagan who received the most popular and electoral votes in the entire history of American presidential elections. There was no state funeral when Clark Clifford died.

It was first proposed to locate the Reagan Presidential Library at Stanford University but the faculty objected, so it was placed at Simi Valley.That’s good, for we know from what we saw on television last Friday evening that it was a Providential choice.The “enlightened” Left hated Ronald Reagan, but we know from the requiem we witnessed last week that the people loved him.As he himself put it in 1984,

We’re talking about two different worlds.They see America wringing her hands.We see America raising her hands.They see America divided by envy, each of us challenging our neighbor’s success.We see America inspired by opportunity, all of us challenging the best in ourselves.We believe in knowing when opportunity knocks.They go out of the way to knock opportunity.They see an America where every day is April 15th, tax day.We see an America where every day is the Fourth of July.

    Yes, Ronald Reagan was a heavyweight.He kept his dignity in life and, with the assistance of his family, he kept it in sickness and death.He left a great legacy, and he went out with style.   (Washington National Cathedral Funeral Service June 11, 2004)

Winfield H. Rose

Murray, KY
June 18, 2004