Richard Nixon's undeniable smile leaped from a photograph that nearly covered the wall. The famous portrait, with the former president giving a "thumbs-up" to the world, inspired 63-year-old Victor Giglio to return the gesture Thursday.
"Boy, does this bring everything back for me," said Giglio, a Westminster native who voted for the former president. "I will always, always, respect and admire this man."
Giglio and nearly 400 others--from school children to those who remember Nixon's first run for Congress in 1946--packed the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda to commemorate what would have been the president's 84th birthday.
An honor guard, U.S. Naval commanders and Nixon's youngest brother, Edward Nixon, presented a 15-minute ceremony that visitors called stirring.
"He wanted to do a lot more during his presidency," said Edward Nixon, a Seattle geologist whose resemblance to his legendary brother is startling. "But now he'd want us to do this: Look where there is no peace, and make some."
Abby Letourneau, a 26-year-old history buff, took advantage of the day's free admission and planned to stroll all nine acres of manicured grounds. "It is beautiful to be here," she said. "The ceremony made me realize the full circle of [Nixon's] life. It's powerful."
Three flowered wreaths from President Bill Clinton, California Gov. Pete Wilson and Nixon's family were placed near his grave site, not far from the wood-framed farmhouse where he was born in 1913.
Kelly McAlearney of Redlands, a 14-year-old student who also celebrated a birthday Thursday, stood beside Edward Nixon and helped present the family's wreath.
To wrap up their recent lesson on U.S. presidents, Kelly's class at Sacred Heart Academy decided on a trip to the Nixon library, where she said history pages suddenly made more sense. Kelly's father, John McAlearney, said the family "spent a little time going over Nixon" the night before her visit.
It was impossible, of course, to touch on it all: the political campaigns, the Nixon-Kennedy debates, winning the White House, opening relations with China, detente with the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Watergate, and everything else that defined Nixon, the only American president to resign from office to avoid impeachment.
"What a great way to intensify history," McAlearney said of his daughter's involvement in the ceremony at the Nixon library. "What a way to make things mean something."