Who would think that sitting in a living room on Ramstein AFB and learning that the troops receiving care at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany would one day get me a visit with president George W. Bush?
I have often visited the White House and taken many a pictures from behind the iron fences. I have often wondered what it would be like inside and NEVER thought that I, Karen Grimord, a nobody when it comes to somebody in the world, would one day stand inside those barred fences of the White House.
As I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue I was looking at the White House thinking I was going to wake up at any time and it was all a dream. We got to the press/visitors gate and had to turn over our ID’s. I walked through that gate and thought “I am here”, I am at the White House. Little did I imagine it would only get better and that I would end up flying higher than any drug could take you.
Walking past the news camera’s that were mostly covered with protective hoods, I thought how glad I was the news crews were gone because I don’t like camera’s and can’t imagine a life with everything that you say is recorded for history and for people to analyze and reanalyze it over and over again. It takes conviction to not be swayed by those tearing apart every word you say.
I walked down the long path to the West Wing. The West Wing is the center of activity at the White House. The West Wing houses the President’s Oval Office, the offices of his executive staff, the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room. We were welcomed by a sharp young Marine who opened the door for me.
There is a short entrance hall and small room to the left were I was asked to leave my purse. Then into a waiting area where there were couches and chairs. I don’t think I was breathing but I’m still here so I’m sure I was. There was a woman in a Army uniform sitting on one of the couches and I sat next to her and found out she was to see the president with the American Supports You group. She was from Maine and started the Flat Soldier project.
As we walked into the Roosevelt Room I notice my name in front of a chair and that is where I went. Then I noticed I would be sitting right across from the president. Yes, yes, yes, I am going to just bust.
I then noticed there were no windows, except a skylight. There were two bronze plaques on the wall one of Theodore and one of Franklin Roosevelt. Directly behind me was a large picture with a plaque calling the picture “Crossing the River Platte” and was a portrait of an Indian encampment.
I am thinking hurry you have to look at every thing because you will never get this chance again. OK, Nobel peace prize on the other wall won by Theodore Roosevelt. Above the fireplace is a large picture of Theodore Roosevelt as a commander of the rough riders. On each side of the fireplace are two doors, OH how I want to go through those doors!! Let me see what is through those doors!
But I have to keep taking it all in so little time, I can’t worry about things I will never see. Next wall has our services flags on it and it touches my heart because that is why we are here. We can send all the packages in the world but without our troops defending our freedom here and abroad, there is no president, but a dictator, there is no traveling freely across state lines to see family, friends, the United States president. Those flags remind me why I do what I do. Each flag wears battle ribbons and I want to tell the group that each of these ribbons had heroes. Not all were popular wars or battles. Not each was won the way we would like it be won, but each lead to the next step in our history and WE CAN NOT FORGET and we MUST stay united!!
Then I went back to those two doors at far end of the room and wondered where they went. I want to go through those doors!!
I could not help but think of all the delegations that had been in that room meeting with all the presidents over the years and HERE I WAS. The things you think about in such a short period of time is really amazing. Is this the same room that was called the “Fish Room”, was I brave enough to ask, NOPE not I.
THE DOOR OPENED!! He is in the room with me, so cool. President Bush came through the door to the right of the fireplace. This was the opposite side of the table from me. He walked around the table and shook the hands of his guest. This took just a few minutes for him to get to me but I can remember thinking what kind of hand shake would he have. I was raised that a handshake told you a lot about a person. Have you ever had that sloppy handshake like a dead fish, the bone crusher, what about the guy who grabs just your fingers, or the one that shakes from their shoulder and not the elbow, the shake that last forever. Ugh. A firm handshake with good eye contact communicates self-confidence and interest in you. What kind of man was President Bush; his handshake was going to tell me. One more person and then it was my turn, turn slightly to face him Karen, OH NO, what are you going to say? “Mr. President, thank you for inviting me and it is my honor to be here today”. “Karen, welcome and I am happy you are here”. Next person. Did that sound stupid? Then it hit me WOW!! Perfect handshake. I also realized when he first walked in that he was much taller than I thought/imagined. Why all the caricatures of President Bush as a short man with big ears? I am 5’9 and had a one-inch heel on and he still had height on me.
President Bush went to the other side of the table. When he started to pull out his chair I waited for him to sit and then sat down myself. People might have thought me crazy since most of them were already seated but it is a sign of respect. As I was sitting across the table from him I was thinking he also looked much younger than I thought. Then it hit me I was sitting across this table no more than 3.5 feet wide from the President of the United States. He spent time with each of us from the America Supports You team. When it came to me, he asked me if I had traveled all the way from Landstuhl. I told him no and that we were based out of Stafford, Virginia, straight down I-95 Mr. President. He asked me how traffic was? Only 2 hours, not to bad. He asked how we got started and I told him it was after a trip to Germany to visit my daughter and her husband that was stationed at Ramstien at the time. That my son-in-law was actually coming back from the Middle East today and was landing as we spoke. He asked me where my son in law was at? Where was he flying into? What base was he flying into? What route were they taking? He told me that if my son in law knew what was good for him he would call President Bush’s mom and let him know that he was home safe. He said that he still calls mom while he travels to let her know he got to his destination safely. I am glad to know Barbara Bush taught her son the same principals that I tried to instill in mine, you call MOM and let her know you arrived home O.K. My dad knew that I was invited to the White House. He told me that I had to shake the president’s hand for him and the family, (he also reiterated that I do it right). OK, so how am I going to tell the president of the United States that I have to shake his hand twice? But I did and my heart was in my throat. To my surprise President Bush said “Karen we are going to do one better, we are going to go into the Oval Office and take a picture arm in arm”. I am sure nothing came out of my mouth but it was best that way I guarantee you, because anything else would have just sounded like a babbling brook.
It was now time for the press to come in and people moved the chairs back and brought in big lights. President Bush said that
“One of the most enjoyable things I do as the President is to hear stories of my fellow citizens — stories of compassion, stories of care. I just talked to social entrepreneurs who have decided to help improve the lives of our servicemen and women and their families. There are some remarkable acts of kindness by people who have taken it upon themselves to serve their country by helping a neighbor in need. Whether it be helping the chaplains help kids, or whether it be helping a family of the injured, whether it be working at Walter Reed or supporting troops getting ready to go into combat, these good men and women really represent the very best of America.
I ask my fellow citizens to support our troops and their families. There are all kinds of ways you can find out how to do so. AmericaSupportsYou.mil, for example, is a website that if you really do want to participate like these citizens have, that you can find a way to contribute your time or your money, your talents, to really send a message that America supports these brave volunteers who are out defending their country in the war on terror.
So I thank you all for joining us. It’s been my great pleasure to hear from you. I’m proud to be the President of a country with so many decent citizens.
As fast as the press was in the Roosevelt room they were gone. President Bush then said it was time for the pictures.
President Bush was taking us through the doors I wanted to go through, yes, YES YES! As we moved through the same door that the president came through a gentleman told us to be careful because the floor between the carpets was slick. OH, come on my feet were no longer on the floor, I am going into the Oval Office, ME in the Oval Office!! WOW!!
I don’t know how a person takes everything in. I really think all my senses were numb but the first thing was Oh, so perfect, the furniture, the rug, the curtains!
Once everyone got inside the Oval Office, President Bush said that the oval office reminded him of the high honor of his position. Not only for its beauty but the people that came before him. Each president designs the presidential oval office rug. First Lady Laura Bush designed the rug in the oval office. Again, a man who was raised right and knows when to turn it over to the wife. He wanted the design to be inspirational and I believe that it is. It looks like the sunrays that must come through the big windows that are behind his desk. It has the presidential seal in the middle of it.
The desk is beautiful and is the called the resolute desk. President Bush told us that an American vessel discovered the HMS Resolute abandoned. We returned it to the Queen as a token of good faith. When the ship was retired the Queen commissioned the desk and presented it to President Hayes. President Bush told us that it as been modified twice once by Franklin Roosevelt who requested a door in the front knee area to hide his wheel chair and by President Regan who added a 2 inch base to it so he would not hit his knees each time he sat down. President Bush also added that the desk was made famous by a photograph of John-John Kennedy peeking out from behind the door while his dad was working.
The President can add any painting they want on the walls. He has one of George Washington over his fireplace directly across from his desk. President Bush said he did not think that you could be in the Oval Office and not have a picture of George Washington, our first president.
He also has a picture of Abraham Lincoln. President Bush and my son, Jeremy has this in common when it comes to Mr. Lincoln. They both do a lot of reading about this man and his presidency. Abe Lincoln worked to unite the Nation. Our county must be united so our big goals and objectives can be met. President Bush said that if you read his writing he was always concerned about how to unite the nation. President Bush always talks about uniting this country and how it is important for us.
President Bush pointed out the paintings on his walls. He got a laugh when he said this is Texas, this is Texas and this is Texas. Texas paintings are on the wall and he maybe in D.C. but home is in for sure in Texas.
President Bush told us that a president must serve the nation and not himself, or just those that voted for him. The president is a president of all the people.
He was standing in front of the desk and he said it was time for the pictures. I was standing right next to him so I guess I was first. I walked up to him and he put his arm around my back. OK, it is instinct for me to do the same, HOWEVER, I don’t know if it is being married to a Federal Agent, or being aware of Personal Security Operations, (PSO’s) or what but just as my arm was about 12 inches from his back I froze. I actually saw this little special agent man with dark glasses and a ear piece saying, “STOP, DON’T TOUCH, President of the United States”. I froze. Here my arm is in mid air behind the president and I could not move because this stupid little secret service man in my head told me not to touch. I don’t know how long it took but I turned to President Bush and said something to the effect of can I put my arm around you. I thought I said it softly but everyone started laughing. He said that I could and if he did not have his hand around my back I know I would be through the roof of the Oval Office and I would have scared the dickens out of the guys that you always see walking the roof of the White House with their weapons.
President Bush and LHCP has been on some of the same web blogs in the past. LHCP has done positive things and been attacked for it. At first I was hurt and distraught over the negative PR but I took my lead from President Bush. He had conviction in his beliefs and what he knew was right. I too knew that what LHCP was doing was right and we did everything above board 100%. Let them do their mud slinging, I was not going to let them be a part of tearing LHCP apart and I was not going to be apart of tearing this country apart and will continue to show our troops that I support them and their mission. Even though President Bush did not know about our connection I was very honored to be next to him for HIS contribution to LHCP and keeping us alive when the nay sayers were trying to tear us apart.
After the others had their pictures taken I told President Bush that the year I was born our president said for us not to ask what our country could do for us but what can we do for our country. Before, I could finish, he told me to continue to support our troops, to remember our troops. This falls in line with LHCP’s mission statement that Calvin Coolidge made “a nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten”. Mr. President don’t worry LHCP will not forget our troops!!
We left the Oval Office and I was trying to put everything into some sort of order and understand how all of this happened to me. How does one comprehend everything that has happened over the 60 plus minutes. Oh my, the president spent over a hour with me, the normal, everyday person of the United States, how cool!
I picked up my purse from the same little room that I dropped it off when I first walked in and called to make sure my son-in-law had made it home from the Middle East. He was home safe, could this day get any better?
As I started outside, the handsome young Marine was right on the door to open it for me. I walked outside and the news crew from the Pentagon channel were interviewing all of the America Supports You members. Seems simple enough, NO WAY. My head was still trying to figure out how I got invited to see the president and stand in the Oval Office. The decisions that have taken place in this office for the security of our nation and people are to many to count.
I waited until last. It seemed like I could do this. She seemed to be asking everyone about their groups. I can talk about LHCP, but she did not ask me about LHCP. She asked, “what did the president say that you are going to take away from here today?” OH NO, think Karen, think just one thing that the president said that you will take away with you. (Nope, can’t be that you can touch him). I know I quoted Calvin Coolidge and I quoted Kennedy. I hope that we as a country learn that if we must stay united that we don’t fall apart and divide ourselves. We must remember our history and we must stay united. Did what I say make sense, who knows? Was there anyone else there more honored, proud or excited to be at the White House and visit our 43rd president. NO WAY!