Events mark Reagan's 100th birthday

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. —When Nancy Reagan, aided by Marines from Camp Pendleton, lays a wreath at her husband's tomb today, it will be to commemorate the centennial of his birth.

A group of F-18 jets based on the USS Ronald Reagan will soar above the library during the wreath-laying. One of the pilots, Lt. Jason Harrel, is a former employee at the library, where he worked in the gift shop and as an event coordinator. The Beach Boys, one of Reagan's favorite groups, will sing "Happy Birthday." The birthday cake, according to a news release, will be decorated with 100 stars and 100 stripes and layered with "mixed, colored jelly beans."

Speeches and scholarly forums across the United States will mark the 40th president's 100th birthday. In Santa Barbara, the Young America's Foundation, a conservative group that owns Reagan's beloved Rancho del Cielo, sponsored talks by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Friday night and by former Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday night.

But the most lasting commemoration may be what's unveiled to the public Monday — the $15 million overhaul of the Reagan Library. About half the artifacts now on display have never been seen by the public.

"We took down walls, we dismantled exhibits, we took out carpeting — this will be a completely new experience," said Melissa Giller, a library spokeswoman.

The redone library is divided into 17 galleries, each focusing on a period of Reagan's life, from his boyhood through his acting career, from his days as California governor to his poignant 1994 announcement that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and would withdraw from public life.

A powerful exhibit on the attempted assassination of Reagan in 1981 includes the blue pinstripe suit that was cut off him as he lay seriously wounded at George Washington University Hospital. In a separate case are messages he jotted when he had a breathing tube down his throat.

One reads: "If I'd had this much attention in Hollywood, I'd have stayed there."

The new library devotes a section to the Iran-Contra scandal, including a recording of Reagan's 1987 speech in which he admits responsibility for the affair.

"We're very up-front about it," John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation said. "It's accurate, and it's history."