“Read it again”
The words were spoken by then-President George W. Bush. He hadn’t forgotten anything, not at all. The people around him were patients- soldiers injured in acts of war. One Marine at Walter Reed Hospital had the amazing opportunity to open his eyes for the first time in the hospital, and the President was dignified enough to have a repeat ceremony for the recipient:
According to Perino, Bush was scheduled to visit 25 patients during a 2005 visit to the hospital — many of them were in serious condition.
The first patient they were scheduled to see was a young Marine in the intensive care unit who had been injured by a roadside bomb, the Chief Naval Officer told Bush.
“What’s his prognosis?” the president asked.
“Well, we don’t know sir, because he’s not opened his eyes since he arrived, so we haven’t been able to communicate with him. But no matter what, Mr. President, he has a long road ahead of him,” said the CNO.
Perino wrote that the family was very excited to see Bush and that after the Purple Heart ceremony the president explained how “brave and courageous” the Marine was to his young son.
No one, however, expected what happened next.
The Marine had just opened his eyes. I could see him from where I stood.
The CNO held the medical team back and said, “Hold on, guys. I think he wants the president.”
The president jumped up and rushed over to the side of the bed. He cupped the Marine’s face in his hands. They locked eyes, and after a couple of moments the president, without breaking eye contact, said to the military aide, “Read it again.”
Perino wrote that the president started to cry during the ceremony.
So we stood silently as the military aide presented the Marine with the award for a second time. The president had tears dripping from
his eyes onto the Marine’s face. As the presentation ended, the president rested his forehead on the Marine’s for a moment.
Now everyone was crying, and for so many reasons: the sacrifice; the pain and suffering; the love of country; the belief in the mission; and the witnessing of a relationship between a soldier and his Commander in Chief that the rest of us could never fully grasp. (In writing this book, I contacted several military aides who helped me track down the name of the Marine. I hoped for news that he had survived. He did not. He died during surgery six days after the president’s visit. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery and is survived by his wife and their three children.)
Perino’s book was released earlier this week and documents the years she served as the White House press secretary. While promoting it Tuesday, she made news after she called Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid the most “poisonous figure” in Washington, D.C.
The tears were well deserved in this touching moment. The President took the time to see a moment, to touch humanity in a person that ended up not living much longer. This writer shed a few tears herself when reading this story, and I bet you have too. Keep in mind that all gave some, and some really have given all. Bravo, Mr. President. You are a tough act to follow when we hear stories like these.
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