President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney joined a host of dignitaries in honoring U.S. veterans at the Smith Center Friday.
The event, one of the first in the inauguration celebration, was moved from the D.C. Stadium Armory to GW because the Inaugural Committee needed a larger venue, said Gretchen King, director of media relations. A crowd of more than 4,000 attended the event, including some GW students.
Bush spoke as the “surprise guest,” entering near the end of the program to a thunderous ovation. As the applause died down, a woman shouted, “America’s back!”
With a grin, Bush responded, “Behave yourself.”
Bush told the crowd his administration would work to improve military morale by strengthening the military and ensuring that they were well housed, well trained and well paid. Bush said a well-prepared military can prevent conflicts.
“In order to keep the peace, the military and morale must be strong,” he said.
Bush praised his newly assembled team of military advisors.
“The national security team I’ve put together is the best in our nation’s history,” Bush said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) joined Cheney in paying tribute in the emotionally charged ceremony.
Cheney spoke of the “new era of purpose and pride” the new administration would bring to the military.
“(American) people are reluctant warriors,” Cheney said.
He also alluded to a campaign platform of the Bush-Cheney ticket to strengthen a military troubled with missed recruitment goals and diminishing ranks. Cheney pledged to have the military be “proud to serve and proud to stay.”
Dole spoke about the World War II generation of “ordinary men and women asked to do extraordinary things.” He acknowledged a group of about 50 students outside the Smith Center who came to protest various U.S. government activities from the sanctions against Iraq to the national war on drugs.
“We have people here protesting, but that is a right we fought for,” Dole said. “We gain our strength from diversity.”
“GW is radicalized,” said sophomore Bernard Pollack, a member of the GW Action Coalition.
Pollack and others from the D.C. area planned to join with
demonstrators during Saturday’s inauguration activities.
“They represent diverse groups that are opposed to the Bush-Cheney presidency,” Pollack said.
The GW Naval ROTC unit saluted the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who attended the event. Of the 150 living recipients of the medal, the highest military honor, 101 attended the event.
“To salute our veterans during the inaugural weekend for us being people who where a uniform was great,” said Midshipman Andrew Gourgoumis, battalion commander of the GW NROTC. “To meet those Medal of Honor recipients was a great honor.”
The GW NROTC carried an 80-foot flag in the Inaugural Parade and saluted the president Saturday.
“This event was real exciting,” said Bill Eldridge, chairman of the GW College Republicans. “And the speech by Bush shows his commitment to the military.”
Eldridge, who was one of several College Republicans in attendance, said Bush’s unexpected appearance was “awesome.”
“It is something to see Cheney pay tribute to veterans,” Eldridge said. “And it’s great for (GW).”
“This is an unbelievable tribute,” said Brian Pasquarelli, treasurer for the GW College Republicans. “It was a well done event that really showed (Bush and Cheney’s) support of veterans.”
“It is a special privilege to have veterans for whom we are indebted convening here today,” said GW President Steven Joel Trachtenberg, who gave the opening remarks.
Singer Lee Greenwood concluded the event with a performance of “God Bless the USA.”