President Reagan tells real heroes an inspiring story about a fake one
02.15.2011
01:22 pm

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History

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Ronald Reagan
Paul Slansky

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A companion piece to “Facts? We don’t need your stinking facts!” After all, facts can be so … inconvenient.

12/8/83 Continuing his tradition of holiday season insensitivity, an obviously well‑fed Ed Meese scoffs at the notion that the Administration’s policies are unnecessarily cruel to the poor. “I don’t know of any authoritative figures that there are hungry children,” he declares. “I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal stuff, but I haven’t heard any authoritative figures ... I think some people are going to soup kitchens voluntarily. I know we’ve had considerable information that people go to soup kitchens because the food is free and that that’s easier than paying for it ... I think that they have money.

12/12/83 Addressing the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, President Reagan tells this heart-warming story: “A B‑17 coming back across the channel from a raid over Europe, badly shot up by anti‑aircraft ... The young ball‑turret gunner was wounded, and they couldn’t get him out of the turret there while flying. But over the channel, the plane began to lose altitude, and the commander had to order bail out. And as the men started to leave the plane, the last one to leave – the boy, understandably, knowing he was being left behind to go down with the plane, cried out in terror – the last man to leave the plane saw the commander sit down on the floor. He took the boy’s hand and said, ‘Never mind, son, we’ll ride it down together.’ Congressional Medal of honor posthumously awarded.”

12/12/83 Introducing this year’s White House Santa, black action star Mr. T, as “a man who I admire a lot,” Nancy Reagan plops herself in his lap and plants a kiss on the top of his bald head.

12/15/83 Ed Meese tells the National Press Club that literature’s classic miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, to whom he has recently been compared, suffered from a “bad press in his time. If you really look at the facts, he didn’t exploit Bob Cratchit.”  Explains Meese, “Bob Cratchit was paid ten shillings a week, which was a very good wage at that time ... Bob, in fact, had good cause to be happy with his situation. He lived in a house, not a tenement. His wife didn’t have to work ... He was able to afford the traditional Christmas dinner of roast goose and plum pudding ... So let’s be fair to Scrooge. He had his faults, but he wasn’t unfair to anyone.”

12/16/83 Columnist Lars‑Erik Nelson – after checking the citations on all 434 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded during World War II – reveals that not one of them matches the story President Reagan told the other day. “It’s not true,” writes Nelson. “It didn’t happen. It’s a Reagan story ... The President of the United States went before an audience of 300 real Congressional Medal of Honor winners and told them about a make‑believe Medal of Honor winner.” Responds White House spokesman Larry Speakes, “If you tell the same story five times, it’s true.”

12/20/83 At a press conference, President Reagan claims that El Salvador has “a 400‑year history of military dictatorships.” As it happens, though, the first military regime didn’t take power until way back in 1931. Okay, so he was off by a few centuries, so what?

12/21/83 The Washington Post reports that the White House is feverishly searching the Medal of Honor files in an effort to verify President Reagan’s story. Says a researcher, “We will find it.” They never do.

12/28/83 Dr. George Graham, a member of the President’s Task Force on Food Assistance, says he doubts that “anyone in their right mind believes that there is a massive hunger problem.” He further claims that black children are “probably the best‑nourished group in the United States.”

12/28/83 Lars‑Erik Nelson reports that a reader saw a scene very similar to President Reagan’s Medal of Honor story in the 1944 movie Wing and a Prayer. “Adding to the confusion,” writes Nelson, “Dana Andrews at one point reprimands a glory‑seeking young pilot with the words: ‘This isn’t Hollywood.’  ... You could understand that some in the audience might confuse reality with fiction.”

1/11/84 Lars‑Erik Nelson suggests another source for the Medal of Honor story: an apocryphal item in the April 1944 issue of Reader’s Digest, a magazine known to be a life‑long Reagan favorite. “The bomber had been almost ripped apart by German cannon,” it read. “The ball turret gunner was badly wounded and stuck in the blister on the underside of the fuselage. Crewmen worked frantically to extricate the youngster, but there was nothing they could do. They began to jump. The terror‑stricken lad screamed in fear as he saw what was happening. The last man to jump heard the remaining crewman, a gunner, say, ‘Take it easy, kid. We’ll take this ride together.’”

All entries are excerpted from the “Reagan Centennial Edition” of my 1989 book The Clothes Have No Emperor, available here as an enhanced eBook. More to come.

Posted by Paul Slansky

 

 

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