Vets feel loss of former president at D-Day events
PONTE DU HOC, France — News of former President Ronald Reagan’s death touched many people assembled at Pointe du Hoc for a ceremony marking D-Day and the Army Rangers who scaled the foreboding cliffs.
“He certainly was a friend of the Rangers, that’s for sure,” World War II veteran Charles Ryan said as he mingled with a stream of young soldiers.
Ryan was one of the 225 soldiers who embarked on the extraordinary mission to knock out six troublesome German howitzers. Of the 225 soldiers who began the climb, only 90 survived to fight the next day. The others were either killed or seriously injured.
Another former Ranger who made the climb echoed Ryan’s sentiments.
“He was a great president,” said 82-year-old Ivor Jones. “The veterans backed him right down the line. … The stand he took against the communists changed the course of world history.”
Reagan’s death has hit “everybody very hard because he was such a great president,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. William J. Leszczynski, who attended the ceremony at Pointe du Hoc. “He did so much for our military and so much for the United States of America.”
Leszczynski, who heads the American Battlefield Monuments Commission that operates in Europe, said the steps Reagan took on behalf of the men and women in uniform “is the reason why we have the military that is the envy of the world today.”
Not everyone was a fan of the former president, though.
“I can only talk about Reagan in association with [former British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher,” said David Phillips, a resident of London. The Briton described Thatcher as a “polarizing figure,” and added that Reagan was much the same way.
Earlier in the day, President Bush paid tribute to Reagan during the French-American ceremony at the nearby Normandy American Cemetery.
Before launching into his speech, Bush said, “Twenty years ago, another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan.”
The international audience responded with applause.