Secret Service Says President Reagan Was Sharp

Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 05:59 PM

By Ronald Kessler

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Ron Reagan’s claim that his father showed signs of Alzheimer’s Disease in his second term is bogus, according to Secret Service agents who were with President Ronald Reagan around the clock.

Agents who were on his detail and were interviewed for my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect” say Reagan was sharp until several years after he left the presidency.

“We had a hundred twenty agents on his detail, and he seemed to remember everyone’s name,” former agent Glenn Smith says of Reagan when he was in the White House.

Secret,Service,President,Ronald Reagan,Ron Reagan,Alzheimer’s
President Ronald Reagan
Reagan left office in January 1989. Not until March 1993 — a year before he announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s — did agent Dennis Chomicki notice any sign of memory loss or confusion.

That was when Reagan honored Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at his library and invited him to his ranch. As Mulroney was leaving, the prime minister asked agent Chomicki, “Do you notice something with the president?”

Chomicki said he did but did not know what the problem was.

“He would just stop in mid-sentence and forget what he was saying,” Chomicki recalls. “Then he would just start a whole new story.”

Ron Reagan makes the claim about Reagan in his book “My Father at 100.” He has been denounced by a range of aides who worked with Reagan in the White House, as well as by Ron’s brother Michael Reagan, who says he saw no signs of Alzheimer’s when his father was in the White House.

“Maybe he was just trying to forget Ron,” he joked in an interview.

Edwin Meese III, a longtime friend and confidant who served as Reagan’s attorney general during his second term, accuses Ron of “a cheap trick to sell books.”

Reagan underwent extensive annual medical exams in which doctors “were particularly careful to do all kinds of tests about his memory and his mental condition, particularly looking for any signs of deterioration of his mental condition,” Meese told The Washington Post.

Reagan biographer Edmund Morris says he doubts the claim in part because Reagan’s daily diaries are as “clearly expressed and well-written” at the end of his presidency as at the beginning.

Several years after Reagan left the White House, he remained a witty, gracious storyteller. He had been out of office for three years when he was to speak at an event in Akron, Ohio. In contrast to the retinue he had as president, Reagan traveled with just one staffer and his Secret Service contingent.

The agent in charge of the former president’s protective detail came into the command post and said to agent Pete Dowling, “You know, the president’s been sitting in his room alone all morning. And he’d really like for some folks to talk to. Would you guys mind if he came over and sat in the command post and just chatted with you guys for a while?”

“That’d be terrific, bring him over,” Dowling said.

For two hours, Reagan chatted with the agents, telling stories and jokes.

“He told us he and Mikhail Gorbachev had private conversations,” Dowling says. “They agreed that their talks were not about today and are not about us. They’re about our grandchildren and the life that they’re going to live.”

In contrast to his predecessor Jimmy Carter, Reagan treated Secret Service agents, the Air Force One crew, and the maids and butlers in the White House with respect.

“Carter came into the cockpit once in the two years I was on with him,” says James A. Buzzelli, an Air Force One flight engineer. “But [Ronald] Reagan never got on or off without sticking his head in the cockpit and saying, ‘Thanks, fellas,’ or ‘Have a nice day.’ He [Reagan] was just as personable in person as he came across to the public.”

Former Secret Service agent Thomas Blecha remembers that when Reagan was running for president the first time, he came out of his home in Bel Air to drive to Rancho del Cielo, the Reagan ranch north of Santa Barbara. Another agent noticed that he was wearing a pistol and asked what that was for.

“Well, just in case you guys can’t do the job, I can help out,” Reagan — code-named Rawhide — replied.

When the news broke that Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart was having an affair with Donna Rice, Reagan was returning to the White House from an evening event.

“We were in the elevator going up to the residence on the second floor of the White House,” says former agent Ted Hresko. “The door of the elevator was about to close, and one of the staffers blocked it. The staffer told Reagan the news about Donna Rice and Gary Hart.”

Reagan nodded his head and looked at the agent.

“Boys will be boys,” he said.

When the door of the elevator shut, Reagan said to Hresko, “But boys will not be president.”

Quite often, Reagan quietly wrote personal checks to people who had written him with hard-luck stories.

“Reagan was famous for firing up Air Force jets on behalf of children who needed transport for kidney operations,” says Frank J. Kelly, who drafted presidential messages. “He never bragged about it. I hand-carried checks for $4,000 or $5,000 to people who had written him. He would say, ‘Don’t tell people. I was poor myself.’”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.


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