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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 12:24 p.m., Thursday, October 23, 2003

Bush greets vets, pupils in whirlwind O'ahu visit

By Mike Gordon and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

President Bush arrived in Hawai'i today amid heavy security, ending his whirlwind trip to Asia with a tightly scripted, 12-hour visit to Honolulu.

President Bush looks on as wife Laura waves to the crowd after their arrival today at Hickam Air Force Base. The couple will spend 12 hours in Hawai‘i.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Air Force One rolled to a stop on the Hickam Air Force Base tarmac that was bristling with dozens of Secret Service agents, military police and Honolulu Police Department officers. Only about 20 members of the general public were there, invited to greet the president along with high-ranking military officers and Gov. Linda Lingle.

Bush and his wife, Laura, waved to the well-wishers from the door of Air Force One a few minutes after its 8:15 a.m. arrival — right on the previously scheduled White House time. Bush, making his first trip to the Islands since becoming president, did not address the crowd but shook hands and received lei from Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, Air Force Gen. William J. Begert and Air Force Col. Raymond Torres.

Also there, quietly standing in the shade of the huge 747, was Hilma Chang, a 79-year-old National Park Service volunteer who was selected by Bush for special recognition. Chang, who was honored for 10 years of volunteer work at the USS Arizona Memorial, gave the president a large maile-ilima lei and then gave Mrs. Bush an ilima-pikake lei.

What you need to know

• Navigating certain streets is likely to be a little trickier than usual between the hours of roughly 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

• The visit had threatened to ground commercial airline flights from rural airports to Honolulu International Airport, but yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration lifted the restriction.

• Bush went to the Kahala Mandarin early this afternoon but at around 6 p.m., he will leave Kahala for the Hilton Hawaiian Village fund-raiser. That may lead to congestion in Waikiki.

• After the event at the Hilton, the Bushes will return to Hickam to board Air Force One and depart for Washington. The motorcade may take H-1.

"I told him aloha and on behalf of the USS Arizona volunteers, we welcome you to Hawai'i," Chang said afterward. "He said he was happy to see me and to keep up the good work."

Bush did not dally at Hickam. Within minutes, the presidential motorcade, which included 25 vans and sports utility vehicles and a city ambulance, zoomed off to Pearl Harbor for a tour of the base and stops at the Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri Memorial.

Although his stop at Hickam was brief, those who saw him felt honored to be there.

"It was very exciting," said Kaelin McDonald, 9, who lives in Navy housing in Makalapa. Her grandmother, Joyce McDonald, was equally impressed. "Even though we didn't get up close to the president, we got to see him greet people and get into his motorcade," she said. "I thought it was really interesting."

The Bushes, Lingle, Fargo and Condaleeza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, toured Pearl Harbor from a Navy barge as the guests of Rear Adm. Bernard J. McCullough III, commander of Navy Region, Hawai'i.

Sailors, dressed in full whites along the railings, saluted the barge as it passed Navy ships and submarines, including USS Lake Erie, USS Cheyenne, USS La Jolla, USS Los Angeles, USS Charlotte, USS Chicago, USS Paul Hamilton, USS Reuben James and USS Russell.

At the Arizona Memorial, the president and Mrs. Bush and Fargo each dropped a single flower into the waters over the sunken battleship as a tribute to the men who died during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The president then met with eight survivors of the attack, greeting each one by his first name. He posed for pictures, shook their hands and heard their stories. Some of the survivors gave hugs to the first lady. Survivor Herb Weatherwax said: "I'm not going to wash my hands for two weeks."

Survivor R.C. Husted, a Texas resident who winters in Honolulu, said the president made note of a Texas flag pinned to his chest. He said the Bushes were impressive.

"She's a lovely lady and he's alright with me," Husted said afterward. "It was a very good experience. It was nice to see the president. He is a straightforward guy."

White House photographers snapped shots of survivor Joseph Arruda with the president.

"Do you want my address?" Arruda then asked the president.

"You probably think you'll never see the picture again," Bush said, "but you will."

Arruda said later that the president promised to send him a print.

The Bushes then visited the battleship Missouri and met with 50 veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"You set a great example for future soldiers and sailors," Bush told them. "We're proud to be in your midst."

Walter Lassen, a former Missouri crewman from World War II who witnessed the Japanese surrender signing on the deck of the battleship, stumbled out of his wheelchair as he rose to greet the president.

Bush and other veterans tried to grab him, but Lassen caught himself.

"Nice catch," said the president.

"Thank you Mr. President," said Lassen, a Maui resident.

While on the Missouri's surrender deck, a reporter then asked Bush what he thought of Hawai'i.

"Fantastic place," the president replied. "Fantastic. Thank you."

The presidential party continued on to a visit at Pearl Harbor Elementary School where Bush and the First Lady sat in the shade of a large banyan tree with 106 second-graders. Mrs. Bush read the book "Giggle, Giggle, Quack."

At least three police sharpshooters were seen on school's roof.

The president also was expected to meet with Pacific island leaders, speak to the Hawai'i Republican Party and attend a fund-raiser for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign committee this evening in Waikiki before flying home to Washington, D.C.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.