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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 3, 2003

Press Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base

1:40 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President spent -- I didn't get an exact clock on it, but it looked like about half an hour with the families. There were a little more than 20 people gathered for the five Marines who lost their lives, who were represented by their families at the President's visit.

It was a large room. The families were sitting on couches and chairs. They were seated in individual groups, so that the family of the first Marine's wife and parents and children would sit in one area; then the second group in the second area; third group. And he and Mrs Bush went around -- originally, separately, and then they linked back up and then went around again together, to each one of the families, spent time with every single person in the room.

There were many little children in the room. These were young Marines. In one case there were twins, six-year-old girls, who never got to know their father. There was another --

Q Six-year-old girls?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Six-week-old, six-week. Did I say "year"?

Q Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, let me correct that: twin six-week-old girls, never got to know their father.

There was another mom there with a couple-week old baby; very, very young.

Q Can you give us the names of the people?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we're not going to release the names, out of respect to the families.

Much of the conversation was -- from what the President said, he would say things like, "you're an inspiration," "a tower of strength," "he's in heaven," "I believe the world will be more peaceful," "I'm proud of you," "God bless you all."

And the families would say things like -- I noticed in a few of the families that there were generations of those who served. One family said his father flew B-17s. Another family said to the President, "He loved his country." Another family said, "He loved being a Marine," "He was proud to serve." That was the theme that the President heard from each of these families of -- the wives or the moms speaking out for the dead Marine, saying how much he loved serving his country, or, how much he loved being a Marine.

Q Did you say they were multi-generational families here of Marines, or just military?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Multi-generational of -- well, I'd have to be more expert to know if a B-17 is flown by a Marine or by the Air Force. I don't know the answer to that.

But in one case there was a family there whose -- one of the dead Marine's brother was there in a Marine uniform. His brother is currently a Marine; he was there with his mom.

Q There was an interesting expression from a father in Baltimore a couple weeks ago. Remember the guy who said, I want President Bush to see this picture? Was there any expression of frustration or anger directed at him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. In fact, with pictures -- many of the families had on their lapels pictures of the Marines who -- their son or husband, that said, "in memory of" and had a beautiful picture of a smiling Marine. And one family -- a couple of families handed those pictures to the President.

Q You made the observation this morning that there was a lot of fresh grief, there was going to be a lot of fresh grief. How raw was this? Was this very, very tearful? Or how would you describe it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was tearful. It was tearful. I mean, different families react differently. In some instances, a mom would cry. It was teary-eyed. The President was teary-eyed.

Q The President has had to do a lot of this -- from 9/11, through Afghanistan, the commemoration of 9/11, and now this. Have you seen development in how he handles this awful responsibility?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've seen the President yourself. You saw him on September 11, 2002. And I think you know how he reacts to emotional and important moments like this. It is part of the job of the Commander-in-Chief, and he knows it. And he doesn't relish it, because he doesn't want war or seek war. But he knows it is the job of the Commander-in-Chief to lead the nation in moments of joy and in moments of sorrow. And, unfortunately, it's been his duty to do it in several occasions. It's difficult duty.

Q Does one become -- not immured to it, but does one become used to it at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What the President will tell you is you can never become used to hugging somebody who just lost their son or their husband. You just never can become used to it. And he has a way of just, in a room full of people -- whether it's 20 or whether it's 100 -- making it a room of two. Whoever he happens to be with at that minute, it's just the two of them. And I think the people who meet with him feel that and see that. I think, perhaps, you got your own glimpse of it on September 11, 2002. I think somebody either has that in them, or not. But it's very, very difficult. It's unfortunately part of what he does as Commander-in-Chief, what every President does.

Q You said that only one of the Marines had family in the immediate area. Does the military help these families pay for their -- you know finance them to come --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think when people in the community heard the President was coming, they got together and helped the families who didn't live in the area to be able to come for the visit.

Q What about those who didn't live in the area?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what I said, for those who didn't live in the area.

Q Oh, so anybody who wanted to come could come, financially?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the community got together to help those who didn't live in the area so they could afford the trip here.

Q Did the base pay, or did they pass the hat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think the community paid, not the base.

Q Karl told us earlier that he thought this was the President's first contact with relatives of killed soldiers. Do you know? He asked us to check with you, though.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well -- you mean in the Iraq theater? Because, certainly, in the Afghanistan theater he's met with folks.

Yes, I think direct, in-person contact, that's probably right. I'm not aware of anything else.

Q Has he --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you know, the President has asked me to keep private how he communicates with those who have lost their lives in combat.

Q I don't understand, it's the first contact or not?

Q First physical -- physical, yes. He's not saying --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's also fair to say, from the President's point of view, while today he was with five, his mind on all those who have lost their lives.

Q Has there been any indirect contact?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President treats this privately. Let me just say that, the President does write to all those families for those who have lost their lives.

Q Was there a minister there in this chapel? Did they pray at all, do you know?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a Marine minister there. There was no prayer.

Q Ari, did you ever discuss that one -- I mean, that statement that Scott referenced was played pretty far and wide on TV. And I can't imagine the President didn't see it. Did you ever discuss that with him?


Q From the father, the father who lost his son and said -- you know, he held up the picture and said, I want President Bush to see this. This is my only son, blah, blah, blah. I mean, that was played a lot on TV. Do you know if the President saw that? Or do you know how he feels about it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have not talked to the President directly about that. But I think the President expressed his feelings for all of those who lost their lives today.

Q What signal you're trying to send with this event tomorrow -- Sunni, Shiites, some Christians?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The power of freedom, the fact that these people who lived under Saddam's brutality and lived to escape it have a powerful story to tell. And it's the story of freedom and the story of hope. And it's a hope that's about to be realized, to come true.

Q Is it also meant to signal you're looking ahead to a post -- a reconstruction period?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I can't say that. I think it's just as I described. Of course, there are thoughts about the reconstruction period, but that's more tied to the reconstruction and not to tomorrow's meeting.

Q Is that his only event tomorrow before Camp David?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have the schedule here. I don't remember the rest of it.

Q You guys do Camp David, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe so. Anything else? Okay, thank you, everybody.

Q Thank you for paying us a visit.

END 1:50 P.M. EST