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Nixon Library Opens With Pomp, Tributes : Dedication: Three former Presidents at Yorba Linda ceremony. Bush makes the only mention of Watergate.

July 20, 1990|JOHN NEEDHAM and DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

YORBA LINDA — Richard M. Nixon dedicated his presidential library Thursday to the ringing applause of his three Republican successors and 50,000 spectators, proclaiming his belief in the American Dream but not mentioning the Watergate scandal that drove him from office 16 years ago.

Three brass bands played, red-suited trumpeters heralded the arrival of the Presidents and organizers sent red, white and blue balloons aloft at the end of the 2 1/2-hour ceremony.

"Nothing we have ever seen matches this moment--to be welcomed home again," Nixon said.

As he did in his latest book, "In the Arena," he spoke about the theme of struggle and the role it has played in his life from his childhood in Yorba Linda to his political victories and tragedies.

"I believe in the American Dream because I have seen it come true in my own life," he said. "You will suffer disappointments in your life and sometimes you will be discouraged.

"It is sad to lose," he continued. "But the greatest sadness is to travel through life without knowing either victory or defeat."

The gathering on the open-air stage marked the first conclave of four Presidents in nine years and the first time ever that four American Presidents attended a public event.

President Bush and Nixon were joined by Gerald R. Ford, Nixon's successor, and Ronald Reagan, Bush's predecessor. Each man was accompanied by his wife. Only Democrat Jimmy Carter did not attend, citing a prior commitment.

Seated in the sweltering audience were a "Who's Who" of the Nixon years and later Republican administrations, including four former secretaries of state--Henry Kissinger, William Rogers, George P. Shultz and Alexander Haig. The four drew hordes of autograph seekers and photographers as they sat nearly shoulder to shoulder.

The gathering in this small Orange County city--as well as a dinner in Nixon's honor in Century City on Thursday night--also attracted protesters against government policy on Central America, and on behalf of the homeless, AIDS research and the environment. A small number briefly interrupted Bush's Yorba Linda speech honoring Nixon, but there were no arrests.

The Century City demonstration was louder, and larger, and Los Angeles police made some arrests, but there was no violence.

Mixing with former colleagues in the special VIP section were H.R. Haldeman, chief of staff in the Nixon White House, and Maurice Stans, former secretary of commerce. Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Stans pleaded guilty to violating election laws covering contributions to Nixon's reelection campaign in 1972.

Each President spoke, but only Bush said the W word--Watergate. He told the crowd that museum-goers "will hear of Horatio Alger and Alger Hiss. Of (Nixon's) book, 'Six Crises,' and the seventh crisis, Watergate."

Bush was among those who broke with Nixon's defenders in the last days of the Nixon presidency. After the revelation of the final "smoking gun" tape showing that Nixon had tried to use the CIA to block the FBI's investigation of Watergate, Bush hand-delivered a letter to the White House saying: "I would now ill-serve a President, whose massive accomplishments I will always respect, and whose family I love, if I did not give you my judgment . . . resignation is best for this country, best for this President."

It was the same tape that virtually assured that the House of Representatives would vote for impeachment. Two days later, Nixon became the first President to resign.

On Feb. 29, 1974, Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator in a sealed indictment by the special Watergate grand jury. The news did not become public until June of that year.

Thursday's library dedication was widely viewed as a milestone in Nixon's political rehabilitation.

The $21-million presidential library, the first in California, is next door to the simple wooden farmhouse his father built from a kit several years before Nixon was born in 1913. Bush hailed Nixon as "the quintessence of middle America," a man who spoke loudly and eloquently for the "silent majority from Dallas to Davenport, Syracuse to Silver City."

Bush recalled the highlights of Nixon's presidency, citing his trip to China, ending more than two decades of U.S.-China bitterness, and his peace efforts in the Middle East. He added: "Who can forget how in Moscow, Richard Nixon signed the first agreement to limit strategic nuclear arms--giving new hope to the world for a lasting peace?

"Finally and most importantly, I would say to visitors: Richard Nixon helped change the course not only of America but of the entire world," Bush said.

The President said future generations will remember Nixon most "for dedicating his life to the greatest cause offered any President--the cause of peace among nations."

Reagan joked about Nixon's rocky relationship with the media: "Much has been written and said about Richard Nixon; some of it has even been true," he said.

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