LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A planned yearlong centennial celebration of Richard Nixon's birth is due to kick off on Sunday at his presidential library in Southern California, with military honors and the laying of a wreath by the eldest daughter of the late 37th U.S. president.
Nixon, the Cold War-era Republican stalwart who opened U.S. relations with communist China and became the only American president to resign from office, leaving the White House in disgrace over the Watergate scandal, would have turned 100 this week.
He died in 1994 at age 81.
The Richard Nixon Foundation plans to observe his complicated legacy with various events throughout the year, starting with the event on Sunday at the official Nixon library run by the foundation and the National Archives in Yorba Linda, California - his birthplace.
Among those set to attend are his eldest daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, who will lay a White House wreath from President Barack Obama, organizers said.
Bruce Herschensohn, who was a speech-writer for the president, will deliver the keynote address, followed by a flyover by a squadron of U.S. fighter jets, musical presentations by a U.S. Marine band and a 21-gun salute.
Building his political career with stints in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate following World War Two, Nixon served for eight years as vice president under President Dwight Eisenhower before seeking the White House himself in 1960.
He was defeated by Democrat John Kennedy in one of the closest presidential elections in modern times. He ran two years later for California governor and lost, leading to a bitter concession speech in which Nixon famously declared, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."
But he came back to win the Republican nomination and presidential election in 1968 in a tumultuous campaign season marred by civil unrest over the Vietnam War and the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy.
Although Nixon had campaigned on a promise to achieve "peace with honor" in Vietnam, he initially escalated the conflict by approving a secret bombing campaign against communist North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia. A peace deal was eventually reached in 1973 leading to an end of U.S. military involvement before South Vietnam ultimately fell to the communist North.
Perhaps Nixon's greatest achievement was his dramatic 1972 visit to China, which ushered in a new era of U.S. engagement with Beijing after decades of Cold War hostility. Nixon also established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He left office in August 1974 facing almost certain impeachment due to the involvement of members of his staff and campaign team in an attempt to bug his Democratic opponents' offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, and in the cover-up that followed.
His successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon a month later, but the outrage generated by the scandal was widely seen as undermining the public's trust in the White House and in government in general.
Sunday's event in California comes three days ahead of a gala dinner scheduled for the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., to be held on January 9, Nixon's birthday.
Henry Kissinger, who served as national security adviser and secretary of state under Nixon, is slated to attend the dinner, said Joe Lopez, a spokesman for the late president's foundation.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Mohammad Zargham)
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