I was honored to sit down with Michael Reagan, President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation. Michael is the son of the 40th President of the United States of America, President Ronald Reagan. I could hear the passion in Michael’s voice as he recounted numerous stories of how his father inspired the world. I walked away from our conversation with the realization that, long before President Reagan ever made his infamous, “tear down that wall” speech, he was changing the world, through his contribution as an outstanding father.
Gene: What inspired you to start The Reagan Legacy Foundation? What does the foundation mean to you?
Michael: What inspired me to create the Reagan Legacy Foundation was the fact that, while my father was well received here (in the United States), I mean, you have the Reagan Library, the Reagan Ranch, and I am involved with both, but I felt internationally he wasn’t being as recognized as he should be. We started the Reagan Legacy Foundation as a way to raise money to support scholarships for the men and woman that serve aboard the USS Ronald Reagan. We’ve been doing that every year since we home ported her, back in 2004. We provide scholarships to the sailors that serve, but we also provide scholarships for their families who are trying to better their education at the same time, so that’s where it started and it kinda just grew from there. A couple years prior to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, I was talking to a young man there and asked him, what do you know about the Berlin wall? He answered, that the Americans put it up to keep the communists out of their sector. So I thought, we’ve done a lousy job of educating people on the Berlin wall and Ronald Reagan. There was no mention of Ronald Reagan in Berlin at that time, there was nothing honoring my father in Berlin at that time, so for the 20th anniversary of the falling of the wall, we funded and opened up a Ronald Reagan exhibit at the checkpoint Charlie museum. We then worked with the American Ambassador and the local government to place a plaque in the ground, to commemorate my dad’s speech in 1987, which was the tear down the wall speech.
Gene: Why was the Airborne Museum selected as the location for the Walkway to Victory?
Michael: Well because the Airborne Museum was the central point of D-Day. So the Airborne Museum commemorates that… they have the gliders, they have the history of that, because, that was a focal point of where everyone was going. That’s where the bridges were. They didn’t look like the ones in the movies, but that is where they were, that they had to hold. That is where they had a 3 day battle over one of those bridges, so that the 101st could come in. So that was the spot that the paratroopers were going, that is where everything was happening.
Gene: Tell us about the educational programs and scholarships associated with the Walkway To Victory Fund?
Michael: We did the educational program a few years ago. We did it for a couple of years and it worked phenomenally. We took kids from the inner city at brought them to Europe and really walked them through the history there. The scholarship program is of course so important to us. The ship used to be docked in San Diego… but now is heading up and surrounding North Korea. The kids can go online, on the ship, they full out the information and we determine who gets the checks. We give $1000 to a crew member that is looking to better their education and we give $2000, if it is a family member at home that is trying to better their education. We are the only foundation that provides scholarships for the family members. I visit the ship often. I think it’s important to have a Reagan presence on the ship. My daughter has been on the ship, my son, my wife and I think it is just so important. I think it is great for the kids to meet a Reagan and to be able to tell the stories about my dad.
Gene: What do you do in your role as the President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation?
Michael: I go out to speak for the organization, and I visit Berlin to meet with the museum. I talk to groups here, that want me to come out and speak and present. I talk to people that want to be involved in the scholarship program. You know… a lot of people keep asking me, what can I do to help? I always tell them, write me a $1000 check, make it out to the Reagan Legacy Foundation and put in the memo, scholarships. I personally take no money from the foundation. Everything that comes in, goes to fund the programs that we are working with. It goes to the museum or to the brick program, this is where the money goes. I didn’t start it to make a living, I started the foundation to commemorate my father.
Gene: What would you say is the most important thing that you learned from your father?
Michael: Forgiveness. I learned a lot from my father and I actually wrote a book about it called “Lesson’s My Father Taught Me”. I learned a lot of lessons from my father, but really the most important thing was forgiveness. We all have things in our lives, that cause us to do one thing or another and usually it is because we are angry that something happened to us. We often use these things as an excuse for failure and if you don’t get over that, you will never really be a success. I went through some horrific things, which my family didn’t find out about until 1987. I was sexually abused by a day camp counselor. He made me part of a child pornography thing when I was 9 and took photographs of me. I was dealing with this all of my life, I let it get to me and I didn’t finish college, didn’t want to be a success and I was angry and mad. My relationships and everything were terrible and I held it against God, I held it against my dad, held it against my mom. I had to get over it and that really started with my wife, Colleen. She said, you really gotta stop cursing God and cursing your family and just deal with it. You never get over going through these things, you just compartmentalize it. You have to learn to forgive yourself. I had to learn how to forgive myself for things that I did to people. I was using the excuse of what had happened to me, just to be mean to other people. My father ended up forgiving Hinckley for trying to kill him. Before my father went back to the White House after being shot, he lived the Lords Prayer. He actually forgave the man that tried to kill him. When I go out and speak, I also talk about Pope John Paul II, because before he went back to the Vatican after his assassination attempt, he too lived the Lord’s Prayer and forgave the man that tried to kill him. And I look at that as I try to think forward and I think, the two great leaders of the world, the Pope, and the President of the United States of America, not only recited the Lord’s Prayer, but lived it and forgave those that tried to kill them. A few months later, they actually got together for the first time. Look at the bond that they were able to form, based on 2 bullets, and look at the things that they were ultimately able to accomplish. By working together they end up bringing the Berlin Wall down and making the world a better place to live.
Gene: If your father were here today, what would he have to say about the foundation’s efforts?
Michael: I think he would really love what we are doing. I think he would really applaud the scholarship program, honoring the kids that are willing to put their lives on the line to keep us safe. I think he would also really love the Walkway to Victory. Applauding those who fought in the second world war and died for our freedom and brought freedom to the world.
Gene: What is the story behind the Walkway to Victory Initiative?
Michael: While working with the museum, I wanted to find a way to really honor those that served. I mean they are mostly in their 90s now and are really aging. So we created a fund to send 25 D-Day Vets back to visit the location. So we raised money to fund these 20 something vets to go back for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. I thought to myself, we’ve really got to find a way to honor these people forever and that’s where we came up with the idea of the Walkway To Victory. We wanted a way to really say thank you, because they are getting older and are not going to be around much longer. That is really where it all came from.
Gene: How can people participate in the Walkway To Victory?
Michael: They can go online to the walkwaytovictory.com and they can order a brick.
Originally published at medium.com