WASHINGTON – Jackie Garrick voted for Al Gore, but the Silver Spring resident was still delighted to attend the incoming Bush administration’s “Saluting America’s Veterans” ceremony Friday.
“We feel this is an exciting, history-making event,” said Garrick, 37, a former Army captain and social worker who now is deputy director of health care at the American Legion.
Garrick was among the thousands of veterans and their families who attended the ceremony Friday at George Washington University’s Smith Center. Many expressed heartfelt gratitude to the incoming administration for recognizing their military service, and when President-elect George W. Bush made a surprise appearance, he got an uproarious standing ovation.
“I think this new administration is wonderful and I am looking forward to the changes,” said Clinton resident George Malone, a Vietnam veteran who spent 27 years in the Marine Corps. “I think it is a breath of fresh air for the nation and all will benefit.”
About 5,000 people attended the event, including World War II veterans and 101 of the 150 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
The event was billed as a salute by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney. Speakers included former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and current Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, both World War II veterans who were wounded in Italy in 1945. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam veteran and former POW, also appeared.
Dole said that America’s servicemen and servicewomen represent the “best of how Americans see themselves.” He pointed out that only 6 million of the original 16 million World War II veterans remain, and 1,200 more die each day.
“I’m proud to stand here representing those who served, those ordinary American men and women asked in some cases to do extraordinary things,” Dole said.
The master of ceremonies was actor Gerald McRaney, best known for his role on the television show “Major Dad.”
“We are here to celebrate the contribution of men and women in uniform,” McRaney said. “They are the real American heroes.”
There was no shortage of patriotic and period music. Actress Connie Stevens — who said she has entertained U.S. troops for five decades — led the crowd in a rendition of “God Bless America,” while military groups performed big band and swing songs and singer Lee Greenwood wrapped things up with his hit, “God Bless the U.S.A.”
“I thought it was fantastic,” said Michael Blum, a Columbia resident who served as a Marine in Vietnam from 1960-65. “I am glad to see some recognition come to veterans.”
Though the audience included Gore supporters like Garrick and Silver Spring resident Joe Sharpe, a 12-year Army veteran who has served in Korea, Germany and a recent “nation-building” mission in Bosnia, the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Bush.
“Things are going to change!” actor Robert Conrad declared, and the crowd roared its approval.
Severn resident Peter Gayton, 31, who was a military protocol liaison in the Air Force, was one of those welcoming the new administration.
“I think it is an incredibly strong gesture on behalf of the Bush administration to recognize the sacrifices of America’s older veterans and also to let active duty military and younger veterans see that America does appreciate their service,” he said.