RONALD WILSON REAGAN (February 6th, 1911 – June 5th, 2004)
I have wanted to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California for years and I am glad to say I finally made it there. The museum is a fantastic recollection on the life and career of Ronald Reagan, the former radio sportscaster (1932-1937), movie actor (1937-1942, 1945-1964), officer in the US Army Air Force – First Motion Picture Unit (due to poor eyesight he was not deployed overseas but between 1942 to 1945 his units released approximately 400 training films. He attained the rank of Captain in 1943), President of the Screen Actors Guild (serving 7 terms from 1947 to 1952 and in 1959. During his presidency he led SAG through the anti-communist Un-American Activities Hearings, “McCarthyism” and the Hollywood blacklist years. It was later revealed Reagan had been an F.B.I. informant against suspected communists during his time with the union), TV presenter/actor (including General Electric Theater 1954-1962 and Death Valley Days 1964-1966), 33rd Governor of California (1967-1975) and 40th President of the United States (1981-1989) representing the Republican Party.
Not everyone may have agreed with his policies (his economic policies aka “Reaganomics” for example have in retrospect been criticised) but Ronald Reagan was a life long opponent of Communism and someone who believed in a strong United States, including a strong military (according to information in the museum, in 1980 less than 40% of US divisions, air squadrons and ships were rated fully or substantially combat ready. By 1988 this was at over 80%). Ronald Reagan was instrumental during dark times in restoring pride in America, along with developing a more open relationship with the Soviet Union which ultimately ended the Cold War (1947-1991).
“Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead we changed the world.”
– Ronald Reagan during his Farewell Address to the Nation on January 11th, 1989.
“To Ronnie, Well Done, thou good and faithful servant”
– Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wrote these words in a condolence book following his death.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum covers his early life right through to his Presidency and life in retirement. Exhibits include historic moments during the height of the Cold War and various gifts presented to him throughout his career. There is also a full-scale reproduction of the Oval Office as it appeared during Reagan’s Presidency.
Within the museum you can also interestingly see the nice new blue suit (blood stains and all!) Ronald Reagan was wearing on March 30th, 1981, the day of a failed assassination attempt by John Hinkley Jr. in which he was shot just 69 days into his presidency. The bullet that struck him was actually a ricochet that lodged dangerously close to his heart (you can clearly see the bullet hole in the suit and next to it is an x-ray image showing where the bullet ended up). From his hospital bed Ronald Reagan was famously quoted saying to his wife Nancy: “Honey, I forgot to duck” and to his doctors prior to his surgery: “I hope all of you are Republicans”!
AIR FORCE ONE
An excellent annex to the museum is the grand Air Force One Pavilion. What a sight this is to walk in and be at the same level as this huge Boeing 707-320B (VC-137C) aka Air Force One, elevated on pedestals before you! The pavilion is huge and is faced by a massive floor to ceiling window that looks out onto the Simi Valley countryside. In addition Marine One, a Sikorsky VH-3A presidential transport helicopter is on display in the lower level of the pavilion.
Air Force One is literally the “Flying White House” fitted with advanced secure communications equipment (and electronic counter measures for defence) that allows the aircraft to operate as a mobile command center (any aircraft carrying the President is designated Air Force Once). This particular Boeing 707 VC-137C (tail number 27000 and formally known as “Special Air Mission 27000” or SAM 27000) was accepted by the USAF Presidential Airlift Group on August 4th, 1972 and served primarily in this role until replaced in 1990 by the larger and more modern Boeing 747-200B (VC-25A SAM 28000 and SAM 29000).
In 28 years SAM 27000 flew 1,440 sorties over 2.09 million kilometres (1.3 million miles)! The Boeing 707 VC-137C was not actually decommissioned from USAF service until 2001 though and flew 7 consecutive Presidents with the first being Richard Nixon in February 1973, followed by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Ronald Reagan was most associated with SAM 27000 though as he flew on it more than the other Presidents (1.03 million kilometres / 660,000 miles to 26 countries and 46 US states) and signed numerous important pieces of legislation along with writing many of his famous speeches aboard Air Force One. On September 8th, 2001 the aircraft was formally retired and presented to the Reagan Library at San Bernadino International Airport (it is on loan from the USAF).
Boeing assisted the library in disassembling the airframe over a 9 week period and the sections (fuselage, tail, engines, landing gear and wings) were transported by truck to the library in June 2003. The sections sat in the open atop the hill where the library is located while the Air Force One Pavilion was constructed. As soon as 2 of the walls and roof were up the sections of the Boeing 707 were moved inside on September 20th, 2004. 10 weeks later Boeing had reconstructed the aircraft while the rest of the pavilion was constructed around them! The aircraft was hoisted and secured on the pedestals and following 5 months of repainting and polishing her back to her former glory she was ready for unveiling on September 23rd, 2005 (just 4 years after being decommissioned). With former first lady Nancy Reagan present, the pavilion was opened to the public in October 2005 and Air Force One still gleams today.
You are not allowed to take photos inside Air Force One but I can tell you it was well appointed with offices, communications equipment and seating for 52 passengers plus the USAF crew. The aircraft looks much as it did during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and is well maintained inside and out.
Marine One is the call sign given to helicopters that transport the President and are operated by US Marine Corps Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) “Nighthawks“. This example is a 1962 Sikorsky VH-3A Sea King (tail number 150611) that was retired in 2002. It sits below the much larger Air Force One in the museums Air Force One Pavilion.
Originally the VH-3A was a US Army helicopter aka Army One (since 1957 both the US Army and US Marine Corps conducted presidential and executive transport duties and the moniker would change depending on which service was flying the President. The army ceased such flights in 1976) but in 1967 it was transferred to the US Marine Corps at HMX-1 becoming Marine One and flew President Lyndon B. Johnson until 1968 (he was in office from 1963 to 1969). The helicopter resumed this role again between 1974 and 1976 for President Gerald Ford (in office from 1974 to 1977). President Reagan flew in a similar VH-3A.
When not on executive duty the helicopter was allocated to US Navy helicopter support squadrons HC-2 and HC-6 from 1976 until retired in 2002. The helicopter has been on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum (Pensacola, Florida) to the Ronald Reagan Library since 2004 and on display since 2005. It is an immaculate restoration. You can also go inside Marine One and although no photos are allowed I can tell you it is well-appointed and very comfortable inside with couches and armchairs (not like the standard military version!).
A presidential motorcade is also on display below Air Force One. This includes a Reagan era 1984 Cadillac limousine and vehicles from the security detail including a Secret Service Chevrolet Suburban and a Los Angeles Police Department vehicle and motorbikes.
Outside sits a number of memorials and displays. The most important is the Ronald Reagan Memorial Site and nearby is an original piece of the Berlin Wall that he was so instrumental in getting removed during the Cold War (the wall divided East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989).
“Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
– Ronald Reagan standing in front of the Berlin Wall in 1987.
Near the Air Force One Pavilion sits a former US Navy Grumman F-14D Tomcat fleet defender. This represents some of the military actions authorised by President Reagan in the 1980’s to reinforce the message on the strength of the United States military.