The Longest Weekend

updated 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Nothing in Ronald Reagan's Presidency could have prepared him for the dizzying succession of crises that confronted him shortly after the 1,000th day of his term had been satisfyingly celebrated. Shock, outrage and grief punctuated what one presidential aide called "a weekend that never ended." For President Reagan, it began with an urgent awakening at 5 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 in Augusta, Ga., where he had gone for two days of golf. Crisis No. 1: He conferred with Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane on a request for support from Eastern Caribbean states. The subject was the political situation in Grenada in the wake of a hard-line Marxist coup. The consultations continued even on the golf course later in the day. Shultz was briefed during the front nine via a secure wireless phone attached to a golf cart.

The second crisis occurred at about 2:30 p.m. when the presidential party had reached the 16th fairway. An armed man had stormed a gate in his pickup truck and was holding five hostages, including two White House aides, in the pro shop about 1,000 yards away. He demanded to speak to the President. Reagan decided to communicate with him by Secret Service radiotelephone, but when the man—Charles R. Harris, 45, a millwright from Blythe, Ga.—refused to respond except in person, the President was whisked off the course. Though Harris surrendered after two hours and no one was harmed, the incident shook First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The most devastating crisis struck as the Reagans slept that night—a 2:27 a.m. call bringing news of the destruction of the Marine headquarters in Beirut (see following pages) and a similar bloody bombing of French troops nearby. Reagan didn't sleep again that night. En route back to Washington, he was unusually quiet and stared out the window with a look that "had some broken glass inside," as an aide put it. When he stepped from the helicopter onto the White House lawn at 8:30 a.m. to condemn the Beirut terrorism, he appeared haggard.

Events of the next few days, however, promised that it would be many weeks before the crisis lifted. In an action that surprised the world, the Marines and a small multinational force of Caribbean troops invaded Grenada early Tuesday morning. By nightfall the Marines still were locked in combat with Cuban troops there and had taken casualties. Early reports said that American medical students on the island, whom President Reagan had vowed to protect, were huddling during the fighting in a darkened room, machetes in their hands.

At one point presidential assistant David Fischer, who had been one of the Augusta hostages, tried to lighten the President's mood. He told his boss that the next time he was tempted to play golf he should just take his guests to Camp David instead. The President laughed, but in his face there was no mirth.

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