Earlier this year, Young America’s Foundation celebrated what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 105th birthday with a full day of events at the Reagan Ranch Center. The keynote event of the day was a unique panel discussion, moderated by Reagan Ranch Board of Governors member Mark Larson, entitled “Rawhide Declassified,” featuring six of the military aides who served President Reagan.
Reflecting on his life after the Presidency, Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography:
There was one person noticeably absent: the military aide, the person who, since twelve noon on January 20, 1981, had been at my side with the information I would need in case of a nuclear strike.
The primary duties of a military aide are threefold: carrying the nuclear football, assisting the President in the execution of hosting state dinners and arrivals, and coordinating the use of Department of Defense assets. And, unofficially, doing whatever the President wanted. Serving at Reagan’s side each waking minute during all eight years of the Presidency, the military aides came to know Ronald Reagan through their unique roles.
Throughout the program, Rear Admiral JJ Quinn, Colonel Ron Thomas, Commander Woody Lee, Major General Tom Carter, Colonel José Muratti, and Lieutenant Colonel Pete Peterson recounted stories of their time spent as aides under President Reagan.
Most of the stories were lighthearted, illuminating the friendly, generous personality of the President.
Col. Muratti recalled that when he was first assigned to Ranch duty, he knew nothing about horses. The Commander in Chief and expert horseman Ronald Reagan took it upon himself to teach Muratti not only how to ride but also how to prepare a horse for the ride. (Muratti confided that he thought horses all “came saddled!”)
Lt. Col. Peterson said his favorite memories were of his time at the Ranch. Away from the White House staff, after an afternoon clearing brush, President Reagan would often join the aide in the cabin and tell stories and jokes for hours on end. Those were “the best times,” Peterson recalled.
Rear Admiral Quinn added that the President, always considering the comfort of others, would often bring the aides a bottle of wine to go with their dinners.
In the midst of their humorous stories, the six panelists also shared insights about Ronald Reagan’s role as Commander in Chief. They unanimously agreed that he held utmost respect for the military, had a deep understanding of national security issues, and had the moral courage to act in defense of the country.
Maj. Gen. Carter said, “This President took his role as Commander in Chief very, very seriously.” He understood that the nuclear football was “the pointy end of the sword,” and was very conscientious to ensure that he understood and followed protocol to the letter.
Each time the aides would collect his daily briefing paperwork, without exception, the pages were marked up with a check mark or a question next to nearly each line, indicating that the President had read and understood what the packet contained.
Lt. Col. Peterson recalled, “There was no doubt in our military minds that he was right on top of things, understood it, and accepted responsibility for his role as Commander in Chief.”
The aides also reflected on their visit to the Reagan Ranch the day before. Lt. Col. Peterson thanked the supporters who make ranch preservation possible:
This organization that has maintained the Ranch…this is one of the greatest things, I think, the six of us have seen in a long, long time. All of you who are donors and helpful to Young America’s Foundation. Thank you for what you have done.
Young America’s Foundation is grateful for Reagan Ranch Board of Governors member Rear Admiral JJ Quinn for his work in organizing this special program.
All in attendance left with a greater understanding of President Reagan’s character. The military aides to the President had a front row seat to history. They met dignitaries and world leaders but, in the end, as Col. Muratti noted, Ronald Reagan, “of course, was the nicest of them all.”