Despite your mostly courteous tribute to President Ronald Reagan [editorial, June 6], I must take exception with one point. The president loved our nation, its history and its people. Although he possessed an abiding respect for our government, he felt its role needed to be limited so that people would not become completely dependent on it. His purpose wasn't to denigrate government or people who relied on it. After all, he himself was a public servant.
Rather, his idea of the government's role in helping people was to prepare them to stand on their own, so that they, not the government, could be the captains of their own fate.
Mr. Reagan held a healthy skepticism of government and feared people's dependency on governments. As he correctly concluded, a people dependent solely on their government weren't truly free.
Mr. Reagan was rarely sarcastic. I teach 10th grade, and sarcasm, I tell the kids, is the refuge of the weak. People who are sarcastic belittle what the people who are positive achieve.
Mr. Reagan had a sign on his desk that said, "There is nothing you can't achieve if you are willing to give other people the credit." He gave Mikhail Gorbachev the credit for taking down the Berlin Wall. In return, Mr. Gorbachev gave Reagan a piece of this wall for his library, and now Mr. Reagan will be buried near this wall. That's quite an epitaph for both of these men.
It is said that to the dead we owe only the truth. While there will be plenty of positive truths spoken of Mr. Reagan upon his passing, it is important to remember certain important negative truths.
Upon assuming the presidency in 1981, Mr. Reagan restored and increased funding to a military regime in El Salvador, members of which had just raped and murdered four American nuns. His support of Central American military regimes violated various federal laws, including laws he signed as president.
Also as president, Mr. Reagan instituted what his own leading economic adviser, David Stockman, called a "Trojan horse" to increase overall tax burdens on working-class people and award huge tax breaks to the well-off. It took five additional tax increases (1982, 1983, 1986, 1990 and 1993) to secure a balanced budget in the 1990s -- though the increase from $1 trillion to $4 trillion in federal debt during Mr. Reagan's terms of office remains a record increase. Mr. Reagan liked to blame Congress for this, but he never submitted a balanced budget and often proposed to spend more than Congress initially sought to spend.
Those who saw Mr. Reagan as a "nice guy" also should explain Mr. Reagan's comment on student unrest less than two months before the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State universities: "If there's going to be a bloodbath, let's get it over with."
If we are to take full measure of the man and his impact on the nation, these facts and more must be included.
MITCHELL J. FREEDMAN
I vividly remember the afternoon in 1981 when the news broke of John W. Hinckley's Jr.'s attempt on Mr. Reagan's life. I remember praying for his recovery, although I had not voted for him and disagreed strongly with his ec- onomic and fiscal philosophy. Yet he was likable. He was the great communicator who won hearts and minds all over the world, with his ability to get to the essence of complex issues. His stirring challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the Berlin Wall is a classic example of this.
He was a great leader who left his imprint on global history.
We all watched his battle with Alzheimer's disease since 1994. Perhaps the best way to celebrate his life and contribution to this nation is to find a way to cure this disease. It will be a fitting tribute to Mr. Reagan's memory if President Bush and Congress make a cure for Alzheimer's America's highest priority. Let us win this one for the Gipper.
In 1975 I was 24 and attended a convention of the American Young Republicans.
I got in the hotel elevator to go to a breakfast honoring former California governor Ronald Reagan.
As I entered the elevator, there he was: Ronald Reagan. I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. I told him I was from Canada, and he kindly told me it was nice a young man from Canada was interested in the affairs of the United States.
When we got to the lobby, he autographed the back of my business card. That card became my ticket to getting many wonderful signed White House photographs and letters from President Reagan. Later on he autographed his books for me. And Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was so very kind to send me a gift of a large color photograph of him and Mr. Reagan signed by both men.
Ronald Reagan is one of the giants of history along with Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. He was a good man who will always have a special place in my heart.
None of your articles mention the millions of people in the world who have been infected or killed by HIV/AIDS because of the initial inaction of Mr. Reagan. "The Great Communicator" could have done wonderful things to control this disease at its inception but chose not to. That is also his legacy.
Miami Beach, Fla.
Illustrative of Mr. Reagan's jovial and nimble humor was his jest at a black-tie dinner in the White House on July 16, 1986, for an eclectic gathering of several hundred friends whom the president and Mrs. Reagan had known over the years in Washington, California and Arizona, where Mrs. Reagan's mother and stepfather, Edie and Loyal Davis, lived.
Then publisher of the Arizona Republic, I sat at Reagan's table with, among others, Lynne Cheney; the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson Co.; the daughter of the Pakistani foreign minister; a Harvard economist; and a young Olympic swimmer from Tennessee.
"You know," the president said, looking at the swimmer, "I hold a swimming record, too."
We all leaned forward.
"Yep. I swam the river in Dixon, Illinois, in just under two minutes. The record still stands."
Amazed, we asked why the record hadn't been broken in the town, where he spent part of his youth.
"That part of the river went dry."