Memorial Day, 2001 -- Breakfast at the White House
The invitation came via the telephone on the Friday before Memorial Day. "This
is the President's Social Secretary. President Bush would like to invite you
to have Breakfast with him at the White House on Monday at 7:00 A.M.!"
What a moment for me and for AWON! I was so excited and got no rest for the
next few days. Luckily for me and AWON our Vice President, Patricia
Gaffney-Ansel was already en route to Fredericksburg, where she planned to
spend Memorial Day with me, visit her father's grave at Arlington, and help
me lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in the name of our fathers on
Memorial Day. I couldn't wait to tell her the news. When I did, she was as
excited as I was. We were hopeful she would be able to go with me, and as it
turned out, she was!
We had to be at the White House, an hour's drive on a good day from my place in
Fredericksburg, by 6:30 am. So to be safe we had to leave home by 4:30 am!
Never having been there before, we had to find our way up winding one-way streets
and find parking. We arrived in a light rain, grabbed our umbrellas and headed
for the East Gate. Here were about 100 others standing in line waiting to pass
Ann Mix and former Congressman Sonny Montgomery
While in line, we found ourselves standing next to former Congressman Gillespie
V. "Sonny" Montgomery from Mississippi, who was one of the original sponsors
of the War Orphans Education Act of 1954, that provided benefits, including the
G.I. Bill, to the children of WWII servicemen killed and missing in action.
He was happy to meet us and we took photos with him and thanked him for the
efforts he had made for G.I.s and American War Orphans. He is a real
southern gentleman and sweet as can be.
We entered by the East Gate and were escorted to a room with a huge buffet.
I don't think either of us had so much as a cup of coffee. We did pick up a
couple of napkins as mementos of our big day. Then we set to work immediately,
working the room for AWON. We visited with Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole, Friedrich
St. Florian, Architect for the National WWII Memorial, and Ambassador F. Hayden
Williams, who serves on the Memorial Design Committee, and with others.
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
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.