Ronald Reagan’s Letter to a Little Girl in Hungary

 

Since Michael Horn posted below on Ronald Reagan’s beautiful letter to his son Michael, I thought I’d tell a story.

Back in 1985, Pat Buchanan, then White House director of communications, sent me on a fascinating trip, having me join a “young leaders” visit to Yugoslavia and Hungary, the only time I visited Communist Europe. 

In day in the countryside outside Budapest, our tour guides arranged for us to go hot air ballooning–I remained on the ground, riding in the chase car–and when the balloon landed, it happened to come down near a farm house.  The family invited us inside, serving us tea.  One member of the household, a little girl–she must have been ten or eleven–stared at me when the translator explained that I worked at the White House.  She seemed fascinated–but also afraid.  She asked me to tell President Reagan not to use nuclear weapons on Hungary.  Somehow, I found the scene so moving–the simple, poor family, serving us Americans tea; the friendly but frightened little girl–that when we got back to our hotel in Budapest I made some notes and then, back in Washington in a couple of weeks later, I described the scene in a couple of paragraphs, preparing a memo for the President.

I sent the memo off–and, knowing full well that the chances it would actually reach the President were close to zero, forgot about it.

Until recently.

My friend Joanne Drake, who works at the Reagan Foundation, sent me an email, explaining that she had just heard from a complete stranger in Hungary.  Was the man’s story true?  Completely true, I replied.  Completely true.

Below, his story–and the letter he describes

Reagan_letter.jpgDear Sir/Madam,

In 1985 at Easter time on Sunday afternoon we saw hot air balloons flying above our little village in Hungary. That time there was socialism in Hungary and people didn’t have many stimuli except for solving the daily family problems. We were 10 years old then and we gazed at the balloons that were descending and coming closer to the ground. We asked our parents to let us follow them in case they might land somewhere near our village. And indeed, they landed in a valley, 2-3 km from the village. The sight was fascinating for us and more and more grown-ups joined us to see what was happening.

After their landing we tried to get closer to the strangers and to the balloons as we had never seen something like that before. The travelers looked friendly but they were not Hungarians and they did not speak Hungarian. We found out later that they were from the USA. Fortunately, there was a woman among them who was Hungarian so she could help us with the communication. The travelers had to wait for the bus that picked them up so we accompanied them into our village and showed them the landscape. They had fun with us and when we reached the top of the hill they had a beautiful view of the village. They admired the stunning landscape. In the middle of the village a bus was waiting for them but we asked them to stay a little bit longer and our parents invited them into our house. Our living room was full of people. As it was usual in the countryside we always had home-made sausages, bacon, wine and ‘pálinka’ (kind of brandy; typical Hungarian spirit). The guests were happy to have the opportunity to taste these dishes. It was around 7 o’clock. The guests were eating, drinking and chatting. They were having a good time there. My sister who was 11 years old then told the guests that if they were really Americans, they should tell Ronald Reagan that we did not want nuclear war. We were taken aback when we heard the answer. One of the guests said that he would give this message to Mr. Reagan personally because he was Peter M. Robinson, the speech writer of the US President. After that we forgot about this topic. The guests left at around 11 pm., although the bus had been waiting for them since 8.30 pm. They thanked us for our hospitality and told us that they had visited a number of places in Hungary but they liked our village the most.

Some weeks passed on and we got a letter from the White House, and the sender was Mr. Peter M. Robinson. We were very glad and could understand the letter with the help of a translator. He wrote that he had delivered the message to the President of the United States. After another few weeks we received a letter again. It had been already opened before. We did not understand much of the letter that time but we were gasping in amazement as the sender was personally Mr. Ronald Reagan.

Yours sincerely

Tibor Ottó

There are 21 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Geometricus

    And I thought I couldn’t be more impressed with the first man I ever voted for as POTUS. Thanks for the great story, Peter.

    • #1
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    @IsraelP

    Classy man. Not the least because no one knew about it. And of course it was not all about him.

    I can only imagine what Obama would do with a story like this. Imagine and retch.

    • #2
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    @EThompson
    Peter Robinson

    Since Michael Horn posted below on Ronald Reagan’s beautiful letter to his son Michael, I thought I’d tell a story.

    Both of these posts inspire me to recommend The Reagan Diaries.

    • #3
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    @Britanicus
    Trace Urdan: I’m struck both by your genuine sincerity Peter as well as that of the President. What a marvelous story. Thank you for sharing it with us. · 4 hours ago

    I can’t top what Trace said, Peter. Both you and Reagan never fail to impress.

    One thing we can all be sure of, is that everyone involved with the story Peter so eloquently related to us, will view America in a positive light. For most of those villagers, this was probably the first contact they had with Americans.

    First impressions matter, and Peter and Reagan blew it out of the park.

    EThompson

    Peter Robinson

    Since Michael Horn posted below on Ronald Reagan’s beautiful letter to his son Michael, I thought I’d tell a story.

    Both of these posts inspire me to recommend The Reagan Diaries. · 3 hours ago

    I need to read this.

    • #4
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    @Pseudodionysius

    I sent the memo off–and, knowing full well that the chances it would actually reach the President were close to zero, forgot about it.

    As it turned out Peter, the chances of Reagan sending that letter were much better than the chance that the current President will ever get a budget passed.

    • #5
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    @M1919A4

    Washington, Lincoln, Reagan: how can one nation be so very fortunate?  Perhaps the Lord does look out for the United States!  

    I think that Neolibertarian may be correct: “I don’t think we’ll ever have a ‘first principles’ president again, until Americans, themselves, are able to return to their own first principles.”

    • #6
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    @TheKingPrawn

    Thank you, Peter. My day has now begun better than most with this story. You and Reagan are the cure for this dreary election season.

    • #7
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    @DougKimball

    Very cool, Peter.  You are so lucky to have had that opportunity and experience, and this story, I’m sure one of many, is amazing.  Reagan was a wise man, his beliefs founded in thoughtful simplicity and dignity.  That he felt compelled to express these thoughts as he did shows how generous he was as well.  You made my morning.

    • #8
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    @Misthiocracy

    I’m adding that letter to my “samples file” for when I have to draft correspondence for my boss.

    • #9
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    @ctruppi

    My 1st presedential election was for Reagan who is still the greatest president in my lifetime.

    I also want to add to Peter that this post is reason number 1,001 why your life has been so damn cool and why I listen/read your stuff as often as possible.

    • #10
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    @Gazaker

    When I read the President’s letter all I can think of is his greatness. As a President, a man, as a human being. I know no one is perfect on Earth, but we are blessed to have had people like Ronald Reagan to show us we indeed have better angels.

    • #11
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    @DuaneOyen

    Impossible not to love all the people involved.  You can always tell character by how they treat the “little people” in their lives.

    • #12
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    @drlorentz

    Thanks for this anecdote. Both you and President Reagan displayed a sense of honor and humanity in this situation that is all too rare among those in public life. I feel lucky to know you, albeit in through this virtual forum.

    • #13
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    @Neolibertarian

    Thanks for this, Peter.

    I believe it was possible for Mr.Reagan to accomplish so many large things, and so many small things, because he was driven by what Mark Stein has called “first principles.”

    Whenever he argued, or was attempting to persuade (or even just scribbling out what he would say on his little radio addresses in the 1970’s) , he always did so from first principles. Of course he knew exactly what to say to Krisztina, just as he would know exactly what to say to Tip O’Neill, or Yuri Andropov.

    I don’t think we’ll ever have a “first principles” president again, until Americans, themselves, are able to return to their own first principles.

    • #14
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    @Skyler

    What a great story. I wonder, did he write this himself or did he have a staff of letter writers like he had a staff of speech writers?

    • #15
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    @

    I’m struck both by your genuine sincerity Peter as well as that of the President. What a marvelous story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • #16
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    @Raxxalan
    Duane Oyen: Impossible not to love all the people involved.  You can always tell character by how they treat the “little people” in their lives. · 5 hours ago

    Very true.  The measure of a man’s character is how he treats those complete strangers from whom he can honestly expect no benefit.  

    • #17
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    @LarryKoler

    Thanks, Peter — very moving story. It’s so sad to see what a terrible propagandizing country and media can do to a little child. What should a 10 year old know about war and the threat of a nuclear war and the cold war? She has no perspective to address this stuff. Very sad.

    This topic reminds me of Peggy Noonan’s book What I Saw at The Revolution. She told some great stories about the common touch that Reagan had. I know that many people found him difficult to get close to but Reagan was a man in full, he had been a celebrity for most of his life and he learned to be reserved especially as he moved further into the public sphere and the field of public policy. He had tremendous self-discipline and it manifested in this way, I think. 

    But, stories like this tell us the truth of the inner man.

    • #18
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    @EThompson
    Larry Koler: This topic reminds me of Peggy Noonan’s bookWhat I Saw at The Revolution. She told some great stories about the common touch that Reagan had.

    I thoroughly enjoyed that book as well and had the good fortune to attend one of her speaking events. Her “Gipper” stories never get old…

    • #19
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    @JonathanHorn

    Peter, thanks for sharing this story. I have a new favorite Ronald Reagan story every time I hear you tell one.

    • #20
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    @PeterRobinson
    Jonathan Horn: Peter, thanks for sharing this story. I have a new favorite Ronald Reagan story every time I hear you tell one. · May 17 at 7:02pm

    Thanks, Jonathan!  And it occurs to me just now that I never got around to welcoming you to Ricochet.  It’s very, very good to have you with us!

    • #21

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