Memorial Day, 2001 -- Breakfast at the White House

Ann Mix and former Congressman Sonny Montgomery

Patricia with the WWII Memorial Architect, Friedrich St. Florian
          We were happy to see Senator Bob Smith among those attending and introduced ourselves. Bob, is a fellow war orphan who lost his father in WWII. He is a warm, big man who freely shared his experience growing up without a father. At times his eyes filled up with tears as he described going to ball games and other activities without a father to cheer him on. We had an instant bond, understanding each other as only WWII orphans can. He also talked about his efforts on behalf of families seeking to recover those who are still missing, especially in New Guinea where Patricia's father was recently recovered. He was impressed with her story of how she was able to recover her father's remains from the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

Ann and Patricia with Senator Bob Smith
          After the breakfast, we retired to the East Room and after we were all seated they announced, "Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States and Mrs. George W. Bush." We all stood as they came in. The President seated Mrs. Bush and went to the podium. There we watched as he signed legislation cutting through the red tape and authorizing the building of the National WWII Memorial on the site by the Rainbow Pool.

The President tells his guests that "This Memorial will be built!"
          After he left the room we were escorted out into a receiving line, where we were given the opportunity to meet the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony J. Principi, the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the President.

          When my time came to meet the President, I told him who I was and about the Network and presented him with a copy of "Lost in the Victory," inscribed from AWON to him and to Mrs. Bush. I told him my Dad was killed in Italy during the war, serving in the same outfit as Bob Dole, and he remarked on how badly Dole had been injured and then said, "I am so sorry you lost your father."

Ann Mix meets President George W. Bush. In the background are the Secretary
of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
(Official White House Photo)
          Looking into the President's face, I felt a strong sense of the responsibility he had and felt this heavy weight upon his shoulders. I didn't realize then what was to come for him and all of us! I found myself tearing up. It all went quickly and a few feet away I began to cry and cried the whole way out of the White House.

Patricia Gaffney-Ansel meets President Bush. (Official White House Photo)
          After Patricia met the President, she caught up with me and we clung to each other and left in a daze. It meant so much to both of us to be there and to be acknowledged by the President, not just for us but for all orphans who lost their Dads!

          We went on from there to Arlington, where we had arranged to lay a wreath for AWON on the Tomb of the Unknowns, and where Patricia would visit her father's grave.

          We made it into the amphitheatre just before the President arrived. He began his Memorial Day Speech, and the first thing the President did was ask all the Veterans to stand up. I was standing at the top of the stairs at that moment, looking for Patricia, who was already seated. He looked right at me and said, "And would all the World War II orphans please stand also." There were several of us there in the crowd, and we all stood with pride and much gratitude for the recognition.

President Bush spoke in the Amphitheater at Arlington.
          When I reflect on this visit now, since the Terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, it means even more to me. Little did we know then what was ahead. But my impression of those leaders we met that day was that they were good, and that they were strong, yet humble. It is a comfort to know how well aware President Bush is of the cost of war, and the sacrifice that must be made by the families of those who die in service to our country.

          A few days later, this letter came.

The letter of thanks from President Bush
          I don't doubt for a minute that he was well aware of us, when he talked of the thousands of children who are now orphaned by these terrible attacks on the United States. I believe that the idea of creating more orphaned children, if there are casualties among those who are now serving our country, weighs heavily on his mind and heart. May God Bless him and his wife and children, and God Bless America.

Thanks to Patricia Gaffney-Ansel, who took the pictures of Annie with
Sonny Montgomery and of the President in the East Room; to the White House
for supplying the Official White House photos that include the President; and to
Ann Mix for taking the rest and for sending them all.