Gipper Ship

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The commissioning of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier (search) on Saturday was a perfect blend of ceremony, reunion and nostalgia.

The ceremony was to activate into the fleet our 13th carrier -- a massive floating city and airport, with 5,000-plus sailors, airmen and Marines to pilot and maintain 80 aircraft and operate the nuclear-powered engine, which will be refueled 20 years from now.

This stunning piece of technology will be safeguarding our nation and freedom 50 years from now. As the ship’s first captain told us, its last captain hasn’t been born yet!

The reunion was a great gathering of those who loved and served Reagan, from Nancy on down. Bill Clark, Mike Deaver, Ed Meese served with Reagan in the California state House, as well as the White House. Jim Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Schweiker, Dick Allen served so nobly in the Reagan Cabinet.

These, and throngs of ex-staff and friends, feel great affection towards the 92-year-old, whose own emotions and thoughts are trapped within. As someone said somberly, “This is the last happy occasion of Reaganites (search) before …” and then just trailed off.

We thought of him with nostalgia all weekend. Everything about this commissioning is perfect, Nancy said Friday night, “except Ronnie can’t be here. Somehow, though, I think he’s here …”

Saturday afternoon, I took a stroll down memory lane with Tony Snow on Fox News, who -- like everyone over the weekend -- wanted to hear Reagan stories.

One that sprang to mind showed Reagan’s convictions and raw determination to change things. Odd for a staunch conservative, and an old man who became president within days of his 70th birthday -- when other men his age are puttering around the garden.

“Yes, we can!” said the only sign on his desk. He was determined to prove a transformational leader, far above a transactional leader who reacts to staff papers and tinkers with programs and policies.

Most folks enter politics to be somebody -- Bill Clinton (search) notably among them. They’re without firm ideas about policies or philosophy. The best enter politics to do something -- Ronald Reagan foremost among them.

Reagan set out to change the nation -- with lower taxes, deregulation (search) and getting government off our back. Yet he ended up changing the world -- with the end of the Cold War (search) and the Soviet Union (search), and clear spread of freedom and rise of American power.

My first epiphany of Reagan convictions came early in his administration. We gathered in a formal National Security Council (search) meeting in the Cabinet Room. Secretary of State Alexander Haig (search) opened by lamenting that the Law of the Sea Treaty (search) was something we didn't like but had to accept, since it had emerged over the previous decade through a 150-nation negotiation. Mr. Haig then proceeded to recite 13 or so options for modifying the treaty -- some with several suboptions.

Haig’s regurgitating such arcane information was not -- to put it mildly -- playing into Reagan’s strong suit. He looked increasingly puzzled and finally interrupted. "Uh, Al," he asked quietly, "isn't this what the whole thing was all about?"

"Huh?" The secretary of state couldn't fathom what the president meant. None of us could, either. So Mr. Haig asked him.

Well, Mr. Reagan shrugged, wasn't not going along with something that is "really stupid" just because 150 nations had done it for a decade what the whole thing was all about? Our running? Our winning? Our being here?

A stunned Mr. Haig folded up his briefing book and promised to find out how to stop the treaty altogether. As Reagan sprang up and left the room -- we all stayed at the Cabinet table, stunned -- he walked toward the door into the hallway of the Oval Office and said to nobody in particular, “I think that’s what the whole thing is all about!”

Another favorite Reagan story reflects his genius for grasping America’s essence, and uniqueness. Maureen Reagan, who passed away a few years ago, told this when showing me around the Reagan Library maybe five years ago.

In 1984, while she was living in the White House, Ronald Reagan went to Los Angeles to open the Olympics (search). When he returned home, Maureen asked what he liked most about the Opening Ceremony.

Her dad stood in the hallway for a moment. Then he lit up.

He liked seeing someone carry the flag of China followed by all those athletes, who looked Chinese. And the German flag, in front of all those youngsters who were German. And the flags from little Africa countries, followed by African kids.

“And then our flag came out. One of the athletes was carrying our flag,” he told Maureen, getting more and more excited. “And following it were marching our boys and girls. And they looked like the whole world!”

No story better captures what we love about America. No story better captures what we loved about Reagan.

I looked at the young sailors who ran aboard the USS Ronald Reagan after Nancy commanded that the ship be staffed and come to life. They ran from the shore towards their stations. They snapped to attention to stand guard on all levels of the new carrier.

And those boys and girls, too, looked like the whole world.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of