By DAISY NGUYEN
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 1:20 AM
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Former President George H. W. Bush received the 2007 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award at a Tuesday night gala, joking the 40th president was a "tough act to follow."
"I wish I had a little Ronald Reagan in me when it came to communicating with the American people," said Bush, who served as Reagan's vice president. "Had I been blessed with my predecessor's remarkable skill, who knows? I might still be employed."
Earlier Tuesday, Reagan was remembered on his birthday at a graveside ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum in Simi Valley.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan did not attend that ceremony, saying she was a bit under the weather and wanted to reserve her energy for the Tuesday night gala, in which she presented the award to former President Bush.
Mrs. Reagan, in a sparkly silver dress, smiled and waved to the crowd as she was escorted to the stage to place the medal around Bush's neck. She did not give remarks, although she issued a statement earlier in the day that said: "It's hard to believe that Ronnie would have been 96 years old today."
In his acceptance speech, Bush said he cherished the time spent alongside Reagan. "Working with Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest joys of my life," Bush said.
The Ronald Reagan Freedom Award is given to those who "have contributed greatly to the cause of freedom worldwide." Past recipients include Colin Powell, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Jordan's King Hussein, Lady Margaret Thatcher, the Rev. Billy Graham, Bob Hope and Rudolph Giuliani.
Among those attending the ceremony were Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Govs. Gray Davis and Pete Wilson.
At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Col. James B. Seaton III, commanding officer of the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton, placed a wreath of white roses on behalf of President Bush at Reagan's grave. Two World War II vintage military aircraft flew over the ceremony and Marines offered a 21-gun salute.
Seaton told the crowd of about 600 that Reagan was an inspiration to the Marine Corps during his presidency and that his legacy lives on today as the military faces adversaries in Iraq.
"America didn't become great because we took the easy road," the colonel said.
Reagan died June 5, 2004, at 93 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Wilson in Simi Valley contributed to this report.
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