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Reagan, in his own words: War, peace and family battles

LOS ANGELES - After he was seriously wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt, President Ronald Reagan described the experience simply in one of his presidential diaries: "Getting shot hurts."

LOS ANGELES - After he was seriously wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt, President Ronald Reagan described the experience simply in one of his presidential diaries: "Getting shot hurts."

That excerpt and many others form a portrait of an uncomplicated and amiable man who, despite occasional periods of worry and bursts of temper, took his eight years in the White House pretty much in stride.

Excerpts from the writings, which are in the custody of Reagan's widow, Nancy, have been published in the June issue of Vanity Fair magazine. They were edited by historian Douglas Brinkley for a book.

Reagan wrote on a wide range of topics, including losing his temper with the Soviet Union, fearing for the world's survival, quarreling with son Ron Reagan and daughter Patti Davis, and enduring an embarrassing moment with Prince Charles in which the heir to the British throne was served tea brewed from a tea bag.

In the entry about the March 30 assassination attempt, Reagan recalled, in an entry written April 11, how he first thought he had suffered just a broken rib at the hands of a Secret Service agent who shoved him into a car and jumped on top of him after the shooting started.

"I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes," Reagan wrote. "It was then we learned I'd been shot and had a bullet in my lung."

Reagan, who died in June 2004 at age 93, never kept a diary before entering the White House in 1981. During his two terms in office, he faithfully wrote every day except when he was in the hospital.

Each page of the diaries - five 8-by-11-inch books bound in maroon leather - are filled to the bottom with his neat handwriting. He sometimes used abbreviations, often referring to Democrats as "Dems" or "Demos," for example, and he never wrote out curse words, substituting h-l for "hell."

In one entry, Reagan scoffed at the assertions of onetime chief of staff Don Regan that he and Nancy had relied on astrological advice.

"The press have a new one thanks to Don Regan's book," he wrote in May 1988. "We make decisions on the basis of going to astrologers. The media are behaving like kids with a new toy - never mind that there is no truth in it."

In another, he reported on a 1987 call he made to then-Education Secretary Bill Bennett.

"Told him I was sure someone had apprised him of our son Ron's article on AIDS in People mag," Reagan wrote. "Ron gave both of us h-l. He can be stubborn on a couple of issues & won't listen to anyone's argument. Bill volunteered to have a talk with him. I hope it can be worked out."

In April 1984, he wrote that "Patti screamed & complained so much" about her privacy being invaded that her Secret Service detail was being eliminated, leaving her security at risk.

"Insanity is hereditary," he wrote. "You catch it from your kids."

Reagan also wrote frequently of his love for Nancy. An entry noting their anniversary described their marriage as "29 years of more happiness than any man could rightly deserve."

He recalled the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger ("A day we'll remember for the rest of our lives") and the 1981 assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar el-Sadat ("He was truly a great man, a kind man with warmth and humor.").

He also mused about his disastrous 1981 tea with "a most likeable" Prince Charles.

"The ushers brought him the tea - horror of horrors they served it our way with a tea bag in the cup. It finally dawned on me that he was just holding the cup & finally put it down on a table. I didn't know what to do."

In a March 13, 1981, entry, Reagan wrote that he was humbled by crowds in New York.

"They cheered & clapped and I wore my arms out waving back to them. I keep thinking this can't continue and yet their warmth & affection seems so genuine I get a lump in my throat. I pray constantly that I won't let them down."

Nancy Reagan Will Attend GOP Debate

Nancy Reagan, who has nurtured her husband's legacy, will share the limelight tonight as Republican presidential candidates try to lay claim to the Reagan mantle.

She will attend but is not expected to speak at the first Republican debate

of the primary campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., according

to library officials.

"Ronnie always hoped the library would be a place where policymakers will debate the future," Nancy Reagan, 83, said in a February statement announcing the debate (live on MSNBC from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Philadelphia time). "This presidential debate provides the opportunity to fulfill his wishes."

The 2008 GOP candidates frequently invoke the former president, who remains popular with Republicans.

- Associated Press


Take a closer look at the diaries, including a slide show of diary entries, at Vanity Fair's Web site via EndText