Former Marine One Pilot Remembers Reagan - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

06/11/04

Former Marine One Pilot Remembers Reagan

The late president was honored with a state funeral. The late president was honored with a state funeral.

Today family, friends and world leaders paid final respects to the late President Ronald Reagan. A state funeral was held for the 40th president of the United States at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. President George W. Bush and his father spoke at the ceremony, along with former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She had taped a message some months ago because of health concerns.

After the ceremony, they put Reagan's body on a presidential jet to fly him back to California. President Reagan will be laid to rest in a private service at sunset tonight in Simi Valley, California. But clearly, his memory will live on in the hearts of Americans.

They call him the Great Communicator, the man who helped end the cold war by bringing down the Berlin Wall. But Lt. Col. Rob Bridgers (ret.) remembers a more lighthearted Reagan.

"President Reagan always, always had a smile on his face," Bridgers told us. "He looked like he was just as happy as he could be with the world and the world situation. If he wasn't in the process of cracking a joke, I think he was thinking of the next opportunity that may avail itself."

Bridgers flew Marine One during Reagan's last three years in office and had a chance to get to know the nation's 40th president. He flew the president to his ranch, Camp David, and around the world.

"We literally went around the world with him," said Bridgers. "Any time there was any kind of a world meeting like the summit that's going on in Savannah, Air Force One would fly him to the site and we would pick him up and deliver him a little closer to the actual site."

From his travels with the president, Bridgers recalls many jokes. "We're pointing directly at the White House. So he comes out with Mrs. Reagan, and we're ready to take off and somebody taps me on the shoulder. And I look behind me and it's President Reagan and he says, 'Rob, don't hit my house when you take off.'

"He was always coming out with humorous things like that," Bridgers continued. "Another time, when we picked him up in Santa Barbara, it had been raining real hard, and once again as we're getting ready to take off, someone taps me on the shoulder and asks me if this thing flies with wet wings."

That's how Bridgers says he'll remember President Reagan.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, jdailey@wtoc.com

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