Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Covert Photo of President Ronald Reagan at the Opening Ceremonies of Liberty Weekend

Dress Rehearsal with Neil Diamond
The Opening Ceremonies for the Centennial Celebration of the Statue of Liberty came at last. After weeks of fourteen hour days of rehearsing and practicing, it was time to put on the uniform and perform in front of a mesmerized nation. 

We arrived at Governor’s Island eight hours before show time due to the fact that two president’s would be in attendance, Ronald Reagan from the United States and Francois Mitterand of France. Security was tight, I was searched high and low, and even my trombone was searched piece by piece. 

Myself and friends with The Fonz!
Barbara Walters
Once on the island, there was a lot of free time with nothing to do. Never a good recipe. Five hundred college students told to stay in a tent for six hours … um, I don’t think so. The island transformed into a Hollywood set and I set out to see it all.
We ran into celebrities at every corner—Bob Hope, Henry Winkler (the Fonz! Remember this was 1986,) Barbara Walters, Shirley MacLaine, Neil Diamond.

Bob Hope before they screamed, "No Pictures!"

Shirley MacLaine and Neil Diamond
I learned that the tent next to the Liberty Band tent was the “White House.” It was the location that President Reagan’s limo would drive into and then he and Nancy Reagan would get out and meet with President Mitterand and his wife from France. This would be their first meeting, behind-the-scenes, before heading out to the internationally televised Opening Ceremonies. 

Presidential Motorcade heading into the "White House" tent
Secret Service was everywhere but I was determined to get a glimpse of this meeting. Moments before the show was to begin, the presidential motorcade sped past a crowd of onlookers and disappeared into the White House tent. 

While others were outside hoping to get a glance at our president, I headed inside to the tent wall that was adjacent to the White House Tent. I pulled a table over and climbed up. The draped vinyl roof allowed you to lift the fringe and see out. Just one foot away, the White House tent stood with the same arrangement. I reached across the space and lifted the flap to the president’s tent. 

I stood in shock as I watched the two presidential couples shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. My heart was racing as I jumped off the table and ran for my camera. I had just witnessed the introduction of these two world leaders—clearly the Secret Service was not doing their job.

With camera in hand, I climbed back up and reached across and lifted the flap to the White House tent. The parties were still conversing and I pulled my camera across and snapped a single picture. 

My picture thru the roof flap before the Secret Service nabbed me!
Instantly, screams from Secret Service agents came from both sides of the gap between the tents. I jumped back and quickly stashed my camera in a pile of instrument cases and uniform bags. I was shaking as the Secret Service agent entered our tent approached me. 

Three hundred plus Liberty Band members watched in anticipation, waiting to see me led off in handcuffs. As it turned out, the agent and I had a nice conversation—he told me that I about cost him his job. The rest of the time, they placed Secret Service in our tent as well as the space between the tents.

The rest of the night went on as planned. We played Stars and Stripes Forever on stage with President Reagan standing about 20 feet directly in front of me as he lit the refurbished Statue of Liberty, kicking off the Liberty Weekend Celebration.  

In these days before digital cameras, I had no idea if the picture came out and I wouldn’t know for several weeks. Amazingly, I got the shot! Too bad TMZ didn’t exist in those days!
is the author of the #1 Kindle Bestselling Young Adult novel, The Card. He's also a healthcare consultant specializing in helping healthcare companies and practices develop a social media marketing platform, and maximize cash flow. You can find him posting weekly to Indies Unlimited and occasionally as a contributor on Yahoo!

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