SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Some of Ronald Reagan's closest friends and greatest admirers gathered on what would have been the former president's 94th birthday to mark one more for the Gipper.
"We'll toast him and drink some wine," said retired Secret Service agent John R. Barletta (search), who helped guard Reagan during his eight years in the White House.
Reagan died last June at his Bel-Air home after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimer's disease.
"We're celebrating the 94th anniversary of the birth of one of America's truly great presidents whose legacy will live on and on," Wilson said. "God bless his memory."
President Bush sent a wreath that was placed at Reagan's grave site by Marines from Camp Pendleton (search). The Marines then honored the nation's 40th chief executive with a 21-gun salute.
An aide said former first lady Nancy Reagan was too emotional to attend the event, which included birthday cake served in the hilltop library's lobby.
"It's a hard day for me because my husband always loved his birthday," Mrs. Reagan told The Associated Press in a statement relayed by chief of staff Joanne Drake. Mrs. Reagan was spending the day at her Bel-Air home and visiting friends, Drake said.
Farther up the coast in Santa Barbara County, the Young America's Foundation planned a Reagan birthday celebration Monday. The conservative nonprofit bought Reagan's Rancho del Cielo, the ranch that served as the Western White House during Reagan's two-term presidency.
Barletta, the retired agent, accompanied Reagan on horseback rides at the ranch and Camp David, and cares for the former president's horse, Sgt. Murphy. The quarterhorse-thoroughbred mix is the last horse ridden by Reagan before Alzheimer's limited his activities.
"He understood death very well — as God's will," said Barletta, 50. "He was never a griever. He was very spiritual."