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President Ronald Wilson Reagan


Ronald Reagan.  1911-2004.  Rest in Peace, sir.

This past week we learned of the passing of one of this past century's more successful Presidents, Ronald Reagan. Among many things he will be remembered for, President Reagan helped bring about the end of the Cold War without the global war many people expected that accomplishment would cost. Effectively, he outspent the Soviets and drove them to their knees economically, not through combat.

One thing many people do not realize is that although Ronald Reagan was an actor during World War II, he was an Army Officer as well. This came back to him years later after being sworn in as the Commander-in-Chief, as recounted by Mr. Reagan:
     I never ceased to enjoy reviewing our men and women in uniform and hope I started a new tradition for presidents. As Commander in Chief, I discovered it was customary for our uniformed men and women to salute whenever they saw me. When I'd walk down the steps of a helicopter, for example, there was always a Marine waiting there to salute me. I was told presidents weren't supposed to return salutes, so I didn't, but this made me feel a little uncomfortable. Normally, a person offering a salute waits until it is returned, then brings down his hand. Sometimes, I realized, the soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman giving me a salute wasn't sure when he was supposed to lower his hand. Initially, I nodded and smiled and said hello and thought maybe that would bring down the hand, but usually it didn't.

Finally, one night when Nancy and I were attending a concert at the Marine Corps headquarters, I told the Commandant of Marines, "I know it's customary for the president to receive these salutes, but I was once an officer and realize that you're not supposed to salute when you're in civilian clothes. I think there ought to be a regulation that the president could return a salute inasmuch as he is commander in chief and civilian clothes are his uniform." "Well, if you did return a salute," the general said, "I don't think anyone would say anything to you about it."

"The next time I got a salute, I saluted back. A big grin came over the Marine's face and down came his hand. From then on, I always returned salutes. When George Bush followed me into the White House, I encouraged him to keep up the tradition."

I think this was one of the first things I noticed about President Reagan; he actually seemed to care about the military men and women who reported to him. As I recall, one of his first actions was to give one of the largest annual pay increases to the military, and begin building the respectability that had been lost dring the 1970s. He was my first Commander-in-Chief, although for only 5 months before President Bush was sworn in.

Army Background

Several years after graduating from college and while employed as a sports announcer by a radio station in Iowa, Ronald Reagan began taking home-study U.S. Army Extension Courses. He enrolled in the program on Mar. 18, 1935 and by Dec. 1936, had completed 14 courses. He then joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps at Des Moines, Iowa on April 29, 1937 as a private in Troop B, 322d Cavalry. On May 25, 1937 he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Officers' Reserve Corps of the Cavalry and on June 18, 1937, he accepted his officer's commission. Following the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Lt. Reagan interrupted his acting career and on April 19, 1942, went on active duty. This was not achieved without some difficulty because when Lt. Reagan took his first physical exam, he was not accepted for active duty due to eyesight difficulties. His persistence finally triumphed and he was given another exam which he passed. However, he was classified for limited service only, which permanently denied to him his ambition of serving overseas. His first assignment was at the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, Fort Mason, Cal., as Liaison Officer of the Port and Transportation Office.

At this time, the AAF and Warner Brothers Studios were planning a feature motion picture to be entitled "Air Force" and wanted Lt. Reagan for the leading role, so on May 15, 1942, he applied for transfer from the Cavalry to the AAF.

The transfer was approved and on June 9th, 1942, Lt. Reagan was assigned to AAF Public Relations as P.R. Officer in Burbank, Cal. and subsequently to the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City.

Lt. Reagan was promoted to first lieutenant, Jan. 14, 1943, and on Feb. 26, he was sent to the Provisional Task Force Show Unit of "This is the Army" at Burbank. Following this duty, he returned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit and on Jul. 22, 1943, was promoted to captain.

As the result of a personal request from the Secretary of the Treasury to the Secretary of War, Capt. Reagan was ordered on temporary duty to New York City in Jan. 1944 to participate in the opening of the 4th War Loan Drive, after which he returned to California to the 1st Motion Picture Unit. On Nov. 14, 1944, he was assigned to the 18th AAF Base Unit at Culver City where he remained until the end of the war. On Sep. 8, 1945, he was ordered to Fort MacArthur, Cal. for separation, effective Dec. 9, 1945.

While on active duty with the 1st Motion Picture Unit and the 18th AAFBU, Capt. Reagan served as Personnel Officer, Post Adjutant, Executive Officer, and even Commanding Officer, often two or more at the same time. On May 15, 1945 in a memo to Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the AAF, Maj. Gen. James P. Hodges, the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff for Intelligence, wrote that Capt. Reagan "has proven himself to be an officer of exceptional ability, demonstrating unusual initiative, and performs his duties in a superior manner. Captain Reagan has received a 'superior' efficiency rating continually since 1 Jul., 1943." The reference to "unusual initiative" undoubtedly resulted, at least in part, from Capt. Reagan repeatedly volunteering to assist in producing and narrating AAF motion pictures, in addition to his regular duties. By the end of the war, his military units had produced 400 training films for the AAF.

In 1945, Capt. Reagan was recommended for promotion but because there was no major's vacancy in his unit at the time, the request was not approved. On Apr. 1, 1953, his commission in the Officers' Reserve Corps was terminated as required by law and his military affiliation apparently ended. On Jan. 20, 1981, however, he became Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.


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Created: March 10, 2003

Updated 26 June, 2004

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