Baghdad, Iraq - It was October
of 1989 - just days before the fall of the
Berlin Wall and President Ronald Reagan was
in, of all places, Tokyo, Japan where I was
born and raised.
Days before I had given a
speech at Chuo University, in Tokyo. following
the terrible San Francisco Earthquake .
After the speech I challenged
the students to do something. 38 students,
formed a team and were preparing to leave to
San Francisco to work with the Salvation Army,
in a trip that was to become the first
private, overseas Disaster Response in
Suddenly in the middle of the
preparations to leave, we received a
telephone call. President Reagan was staying
the nearby Okura Hotel, the caller said, and
had seen a note about the team going to San
Francisco from Japan to help with the
earthquake. He wanted to meet the team and
help send them off. Would it be ok?
Thinking first it must be a
joke, we confirmed, and in fact it was the
President who was in Japan to give a speech.
It was a excited team of
Japanese College Students, that got all ready
and went the few minutes to the nearby Okura
There, in his own hotel room,
President Ronald Reagan greeted each Japanese
College Student, individually, shook their
hands and thanked them for preparing to go all
the way to San Francisco to help with the
No press was there. Nobody
knew. It was just a quiet, private moment with
a great man and a group of young people.
Sitting in Baghdad, at
another time, another place and another
disaster, watching the tributes to President
Reagan, I remembered that moment.
Great men are great men
because it seems God give them something that
changes their hearts and makes them `great`
all the time.
They are not `great` when the
cameras are running and then, quickly frisked
away? No, they are great all the time - great
enough to take time with a couple young
people, who may become `great` too one day.
I think President Ronald
Reagan was thinking on that bright, October
morning in Tokyo, Japan, nearly 15 years ago
that he could pass on a bit of that
`greatness` to those kids . . . well, he did!
That team of 38 students went
on to form The Japan Emergency Team, Japan`s
only non-government related disaster response
team and currently, the only Japanese NGO
operating in Iraq!
To date nearly
1,000 students, doctors, office workers and
people from all walks of life have
participated in 73 disaster response
operations in nearly every natural and made
disaster since that time!
The twinkle in President
Ronald Reagan's eye that day, as he spoke to
each student must have been the `twinkle` of
knowing that the `greatness` was transferring
to each . . and they didnít even know it!
I think somewhere in heaven,
Ronald Reagan is looking down with a big smile
on his face and saying to himself `not bad,
After all, he had learned the
real secret of greatness - the ability to pass
it on. . .
But it all started from a
quiet hotel room in Tokyo, Japan . .