Have a seat in the Oval Office, take a spin through history, and — if you act quickly — catch the Pearl Harbor exhibit open now through Dec. 31 at the Bush Presidential Library
By Laurie Davies
It turns out the Secret Service doesn’t like anyone moving too quickly toward the President.
From a football field away, his presidential stride (or was it the four men who flanked him?) gave him away and my overdeveloped tilt toward carpe diem overrode common sense. So I ran. It was more of a brisk jog, really. But, the Secret Service agent who intercepted me didn’t distinguish.
A bit out of breath and sheepish to be sure, I quickly stated my business: I was a newspaper journalist writing an article on the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. And exhibit A — Bush “41” himself — ranged within ear shot on the library’s grounds. I showed my press badge, shed my sheepishness and looked around the agent to talk directly to George Herbert Walker Bush.
“Mr. President, I’m here to write about your library. Do you have a few minutes to answer questions?”
He could have given a thumbs-up and waved. He could have pulled his black wool coat tight and kept striding. Instead he grinned wide and walked toward me, his enthusiasm as visible as his breath in the December morning’s chill.
“Love to. I’m just on my way up to the apartment,” he said, motioning to a poinsettia-lined balcony extending from the residence he and former First Lady Barbara Bush shared on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.
It’s been a number of years since the chance encounter. The now-92-year-old, one-term president was in his 70s. And I was, well, I was younger too. But I still remember the deep sense of satisfaction he conveyed at having served his country. At having served us.
With today marking the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, visitors to the Bush Presidential Library were once again in the presence of the library’s namesake. Along with fellow World War II veteran Sen. Bob Dole, former President Bush was on hand to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that inspired him as a young man — along with a generation of young men – to enlist in the military.
Now through Dec. 31, 2016, the library’s exhibit “Pearl Harbor Remembered” features digital images and documents on loan from presidential libraries of President Franklin D. Roosevelt up to the present. Restored audio and video of FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech anchors the exhibit, which is housed in the Presidential Rotunda, close to the library’s replica Oval Office.
I remember during my press visit asking him about that Oval Office — which has since been redesigned to be the only presidential library Oval Office replica where visitors can sit at the desk for a photo op. How closely did the replica resemble the White House Oval Office? And did he miss sitting at his desk there?
President Bush reflected upon how he never thought the White House or the presidency were “his” and how he never thought the American people owed him a second term. He answered a few other questions about the library, posed for a photo and asked, “Is there anything else I can answer for you?”
Still, he’s serving, I thought, thanking him for his time.
The brief interaction set the table for the emphasis on service that visitors have discovered inside the walls of the Bush Library since it opened in 1997. The former president himself once said, “Any definition of a successful life must include serving others.”
While I can’t promise you’ll meet the man, I can promise that the Bush Presidential Library will offer a better sense of our national story. It might inspire you to serve or volunteer in some way. And it’s worthy of top billing on any trip to Texas Hill Country.