‘Flights of angels take them to their rest’

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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President Ronald Reaganffers comfort to the grieving families of Arrow Air

Then President Ronald Reagan comforts family members of Fort Campbell soldiers killed in a Dec. 12, 1985, plane crash near Gander at a memorial service Dec. 16, 1985, at Fort Campbell, Ky. The plane was carrying 248 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division home from a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai. — Canadian Press file photo by Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press

You can still read former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s White House diary about the things he did in office.

The entry for Dec. 12, 1985, reads: “During the day, I phoned Gen. Patrick in Kentucky, commander of the 101st Airborne. This morning, 250 of his men, returning from six months’ duty in Sinai, died in a plane crash as they took off from Newfoundland.”

The president travelled to Fort Campbell four days later and spoke to the base.

In a Christian-themed, almost fatherly address, he spoke about the loss of the soldiers and all the talent, wisdom and idealism they had accumulated.

He mentioned how they had been reportedly laughing when they left Cairo and singing Christmas carols at their last stop — Gander.

“They must be singing now in their joy, flying higher than mere man can fly, as flights of angels take them to their rest,” Reagan said.

The president told the people at Fort Campbell they weren’t alone in mourning; that the nation grieved with them.

“The men and women we mourn today were peacemakers,” he said. “They were there to protect life and to preserve a peace and act as a force for stability and hope and trust. Their commitment was as strong as their purpose was pure. And they were proud.”

In his Dec. 16, 1985 diary entry, Reagan wrote that he met with “each grieving loved one” after his speech.

“It was a heartbreaking time. They were all wonderful — we’ll never forget them,” he wrote.

While Reagan’s reaction seemed sincere, the U.S. government’s response to the crash would come under fire.

Look for more on that Monday.

 

Reagan’s diary can be read online at www.reaganfoundation.org. A video of his speech at Fort Campbell on Dec. 16, 1985, can be found at the Reagan Foundation’s YouTube channel.

 

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @bartlett_steve

Organizations: Arrow Air, Reagan Foundation

Geographic location: U.S., Kentucky, Sinai Newfoundland Cairo

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