AMC historian: 'Farewell, Mr. President'

10 Jun 2004 |

Every president since Harry Truman, the first to fly out of Andrews AFB in 1946, has had a close relationship with the men and women of Andrews. Ronald Wilson Reagan was no different. As America mourns his death, we at Andrews celebrate his life and look back at the special relationship the former president had with the Andrews community.

When Reagan became president, it changed the way America approached its foreign policy. After he settled his domestic agenda, President Reagan shifted his efforts toward securing America's defense and improving its international relations. As such, he began traveling abroad more than any previous president.

Of course, that meant many trips in and out of Andrews by way of Air Force One. Some of his more memorable journeys were for diplomatic negotiations with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in such places as Geneva, Reykjavik, New York and Moscow.

On Dec. 7, 1987, Gorbachev arrived at Andrews for a meeting with President Reagan. The following day, the two signed the historic Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, designed to eliminate entire stockpiles of certain nuclear missile types.

In May 1988, President Reagan departed Andrews for his famous Moscow Summit to exchange the instruments of ratification for the INF Treaty. Upon his return to Andrews in June, he was greeted by a formal welcome ceremony in Hangar 3, attended by a huge crowd of dignitaries.

During his presidency, President Reagan flew 233 Air Force One missions, logging 675,640 miles and nearly 1,400 hours in the air. The pilot for most of those missions was Col. (Ret.) Robert Ruddick.

"He was very thoughtful and thankful for the job we were doing," Colonel Ruddick remembers. "In the eight years I served him, I never saw him upset; he always had the same demeanor."

That demeanor served President Reagan well through a time of dramatic world events. One of those events occurred on June 12, 1987. He flew to Germany, and in a speech at the Berlin Wall's Brandenberg Gate, President Reagan called on the Soviet leader to take action toward peace.

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate," he stated. "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Just two years later the wall began tumbling and the two Germanys were reunited.

These many trips in and out of Andrews were pivotal toward the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War.

Another significant flight out of Andrews occurred in July 1986, when President Reagan became the first president to fly on a C-20 Gulfstream as he and his wife traveled to New York City for an Independence Day celebration.

Besides his use of Andrews' aircraft, many significant events occurred during his presidency that put Andrews in the spotlight more than any time in history.

The first big event occurred on the very day that President Reagan was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981. The 52 American hostages being held in Iran for 444 days were released. About 10,000 spectators and 550 media personnel gathered at Andrews for the hostages' joyous return on Jan. 27.

Among the many other significant moments at Andrews, some of the more notable were the return of wounded soldiers and civilians from two terrorist bombings in Beirut, the arrival of the Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam era, and the return of troops from the Grenada operation.

Andrews' infrastructure also benefited as it saw many new projects started under President Reagan's watch. Construction on what we now call the Air Force One hangar began in June 1987; it finally opened in December 1988.

A contract was awarded to Boeing to develop two new 747s to become the new presidential aircraft. However, he never saw the aircraft during his presidency. President George H.W. Bush was the first to use the new aircraft in 1990. The VC-137 (a Boeing 707) that President Reagan mostly used throughout his tenure is now on static display at the Reagan Library in California.

President Reagan also played golf many times at the Andrews courses. His special relationship with the base was celebrated on Jan. 12, 1989, when Andrews hosted a "DoD Salute to President Reagan." A week later, on Jan. 20, President and Mrs. Reagan departed Andrews for the final time as Colonel Ruddick and the Air Force One crew transported the former president to his home in California.

"He was down to earth," said Colonel Ruddick. "He was very proud of the Air Force, and he thought our military was the greatest.

"It's hard to put into words how I felt about him," he continued. "He was simply one of the greatest human beings I ever knew."

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit