Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday President Reagan -- San Pedro Remembers "the Gipper"

To commemorate what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, I have updated with new research the following article I wrote that was published in More San Pedro (Daily Breeze) in 2008, and previously published on this blog:

Ronald Reagan's Visits to San Pedro and the L.A. Harbor area
Ronald Reagan was no stranger to San Pedro and the harbor area. He visited frequently decades before he was elected Governor of California in 1966 and 40th President of the United States in 1980.

Reagan first came to the area when he traveled to Catalina Island in the mid-1930s as a radio sports announcer to familiarize himself with the Chicago Cubs while they held spring training there. On November 13, 1941, just a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he underwent a physical examination at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. This exam stated that Reagan was “permanently incapacitated for Active Duty due to compound myopic astigmatism -- bilateral, severe – distant vision 6/200 both eyes without glasses.” He was seen during this period at the base and also with his first wife Jane Wyman at the base.

Reagan (who in 1937 was appointed a second lieutenant in the Officers’ Reserve Corps of the Calvary) went on active duty in 1942 after he passed another exam, although he was classified as limited service only. Reagan soon transferred from the Calvary to the Army Air Force (AAF). Among other assignments, he served one tour of duty as liaison officer at the Los Angeles Port of Embarkation in Wilmington, and was also the adjutant with the 18th AAF Base Unit at Culver City. On September 8, 1945, Captain Reagan was ordered to Fort MacArthur again, this time for separation, which was effective December 9, 1945. Reagan and his second wife Nancy reportedly visited the former stately Matson passenger/cargo marine terminal at Berths 195-198 in Wilmington (dedicated in 1953) during its heyday.

On October 2, 1966, while campaigning for Governor, Reagan attended San Pedro’s Fishermens' Fiesta. He praised the traditional blessing of the fleet stating: "There's a new sparkle in the waves and new gold in the summer because of this wonderful custom."  (John Mardesich's "North Pacific" boat won the competition with a Flintstones' theme.) 

On March 16, 1968, Governor Reagan officiated at the groundbreaking of the final $10.5 million link that tied the Harbor Freeway to the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Other officials at the ceremony were local Assemblyman Vincent Thomas and Los Angeles City Councilman John S. Gibson Jr.

Sources: "An American Life" by Ronald Reagan, The National Archives, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram

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