Ronald Reagan died 10 years ago today. Some thought he was a great President, others had the opposite view. But almost everyone agrees — whatever you thought of his politics, the man could deliver a great speech.
Two of Reagan’s finest speeches were given on the same day: June 6, 1984, as the President, many surviving soldiers, and a host of others commemorated the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Many people remember the terrific speech about the boys of Pointe du Hoc, the Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of Normandy to begin the process of liberating the European continent. Fewer are aware of the equally moving speech Reagan gave later that day, about one daughter’s promise to a father who survived D-Day but was unable to return to the battlefields to place flowers at the graves of his fallen comrades.
The Wall Street Journal has republished both speeches here, to mark the anniversary of Reagan’s death. At a time when we seem in search of heroes, they are worth a read.
The political conventions start this week. Many speeches will be given, and we’ll have to see whether any of them stack up with the greatest speeches ever delivered. Like Shakespeare’s speech about St. Crispin’s Day in Henry V. Or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Or Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” stemwinder during the dark days of World War II.
But as we look forward to the gatherings of our gutsy political leaders, right and left, in this our nation’s hour of need, my thoughts turn to another famous oration — the Cowardly Lion’s remarks on “courage” prior to his first encounter with the Wizard of Oz:
What makes a King out of a slave? Courage!
What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage!
What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!
What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!
What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ape in ape-ricot? What have they got that I ain’t got? (Courage)
You can say that again!
Seems particularly apt these days, doesn’t it?