SUITLAND, Md. – Former president Bill Clinton bid farewell to the military, his staff and the public at Andrews Air Force Base in Suitland, Md., and reflected on the transience of power in America before a final ride on the Special Air Mission 2800 to the Clintons’ home in New York Saturday.
“The whole nature of public service is, by definition, a reflection of the nature of life,” he said. “It is passing. It has seasons. It is a process, not a destination.”
Clinton briefly spoke about his feelings leaving the White House, and how his staff members have comforted each other.
“I am so proud of Hillary, and I am so proud of Chelsea,” he said emotionally.
A crowd of more than 800 greeted Clinton as he entered the hangar with his wife Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and their daughter Chelsea.
The crowd held signs that read, “Please Don’t Go,” and “Another 4 Years,” while Clinton thanked staff members for their contributions to his administration.
In his 15-minute speech, he first thanked the military for its service, then addressed his staff and family.
“When I was walking down the rows, looking at the young men and women who were standing behind me, I thought again how fortunate we are to have people of their caliber willing to sacrifice and serve the United States,” Clinton said. “And being their commander in chief was one of the great honors of my life.”
Clinton quipped about how he “won’t know where (he is) for four or five months because (he’ll) walk into a room and no one will be playing a song anymore.”
Clinton’s remarks were met with resounding applause from the crowd. The Clinton family spent two hours shaking hands and talking to people before leaving to board the 747. The plane was not called Air Force One because on this flight there was no president on board.
As the former president made his way down the reception line, one woman took his hand and pulled him toward her and gave him a hug, crying and thanking him.
“Thank you for all that you have done, and God bless,” she said through her tears, as people around them echoed her sentiments.
“No, thank you for contributing all that you have,” Clinton replied.
After Clinton shook all outstretched hands, he went into a private room to talk to press officials and his close staff.
The former first family then traveled to the 89th airstrip, where Air Force One and a large crowd awaited their departure. People stood outside in the cold, wind and rain to watch Clinton’s departure. Members of the crowd shouted, applauded and held up signs reading “Thank You,” as Air Force One took off for New York.