By Patrick McGeehan
President Bush came to New York City on Tuesday to celebrate Veterans Day at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a visit that highlighted just how effectively the museum's executives have curried favor with elected officials.
Mr. Bush, only the second sitting president to visit the museum, received the Intrepid Freedom Award from the co-chairmen of the foundation that operates the museum, then joined two retired astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Scott Carpenter, in tossing a wreath into the Hudson River in memory of American veterans.
"The war on terror has required courage," Mr. Bush said. "It has required resolve equal to what previous generations of Americans brought to the fields of Europe and the deep waters of the Pacific. And I'm proud to report to my fellow citizens our armed forces, the armed forces of this generation, have showed up for the fight, and America is more secure for it."
Mr. Bush, who will leave office in a little more than two months, was repeatedly praised at the ceremony for his leadership and for the absence of another terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.
In turn, he praised the executives of the foundation that operates the Intrepid museum for their efforts to help veterans who return wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Intrepid has served as the base for organizations that have raised more than $100 million for that cause. For example, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund raised $50 million to build a rehabilitation center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Tex., which opened in early 2007.
That fund is now more than halfway toward its goal of $65 million to build a brain-trauma treatment center in Bethesda, Md.
And the Fisher House Foundation, named for the family of Zachary Fisher, a philanthropist who led efforts to create the museum and bring the Intrepid to New York in 1982, is building accommodations for families of veterans who are undergoing rehabilitation.
"What a fabulous contribution the Fishers have made to the United States of America," Mr. Bush told a crowd of military officers, veterans and elected officials on Pier 86, where the aircraft carrier that houses the museum is docked.
The Intrepid, which returned last month after two years away while it was refurbished and the pier was rebuilt, is again the gathering place in the city for politicians seeking to demonstrate their support for the troops.
Those there on Tuesday included both of New York's senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gov. David A. Paterson; several members of the House of Representatives and Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the City Council.
Several of those officials had helped the Intrepid by providing about $75 million in public funds toward the rebuilding of the pier and the costly moving of the ship to dry dock in Bayonne, N.J., then to a port on Staten Island.
Mrs. Clinton did not praise Mr. Bush as much as the democratic process. "As he finishes his service to our country, we have seen once again the peaceful transition of power," Mrs. Clinton said.
She also lavished kind words on the old warship, saying that it represented Americans' refusal to forget the sacrifices made by its soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Mrs. Clinton told the nation's veterans that she and Mr. Schumer "resolve that, in the spirit of the Intrepid, we will be there for you, day in and day out, no matter how long it takes."
Both she and her husband, the former president, are among the past recipients of the Intrepid Freedom Award. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush also received the award.
Ms. Quinn, who has been a crucial ally in the Intrepid's hunt for public aid, said that the Intrepid was much more than a museum. She called it the "mother ship" from which all of the charitable foundations had sprung.
She also said that her father and father-in-law, both World War II veterans, were aboard the ship when it returned from Staten Island last month.
The ceremony was generally solemn, but it had its lighter moments. Mr. Bush drew laughs when he referred to Bill White, the museum's effusive president, as "the Vanna White of the Intrepid." He also joked to the assembled members of Congress, "Looking forward to that lame-duck session, aren't we?"
But no moment better captured the patriotic mood of Veterans Day on Pier 86 than when John Rich, half of the country music duo known as Big and Rich, took the stage and performed a song honoring World War II veterans like his grandfather.
Among the lyrics was the line, "We'd all be speaking German, living under the flag of Japan, if it wasn't for the good Lord and the man."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski