None of the 5,056 words President Bush uttered last night in his State of the Union address was as moving as a simple hug between an Iraqi woman who voted for the first time and the mother of a U.S. Marine who died fighting to give her that privilege.
The powerful moment, a snapshot of the sacrifices Americans have made to free Iraq from dictator Saddam Hussein, came near the end of the president’s address as he introduced the parents of Sgt. Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas.
Sgt. Norwood was killed Nov. 13 by sniper fire during the assault on the terrorist stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq.
“His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine, and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror,” Mr. Bush said in the hushed House chamber.
He quoted Mrs. Norwood’s letter.
“When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said: ‘You’ve done your job, mom. Now it’s my turn to protect you.’”
Choking back his emotion, Mr. Bush said: “Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom’s defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood’s mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.”
The parents stood and acknowledged the thunderous applause.
Just then, Safia Taleb al Suhail, who was seated one row in front of them in the balcony guest box of first lady Laura Bush, turned and reached up to Mrs. Norwood. The two embraced as the applause grew to a crescendo.
The president, visibly moved, looked up from the podium as the seconds stretched to a full minute — the longest applause of the evening.
As the women broke their embrace, they became momentarily tangled. Mrs. Norwood reached down to the cuff of Mrs. al Suhail’s sleeve and untwisted her son’s dog tags, which she had worn to the address. They had become caught on a button.
The moment followed the president’s praise of Mrs. al Suhail, the leader of the Iraqi Women’s Political Council, who had flown to the United States after voting Sunday in Iraq.
“She says of her country, ‘We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all to the soldiers,’” Mr. Bush said.
“Eleven years ago, Safia’s father was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country — and we are honored that she is with us tonight,” the president said.
Mrs. al Suhail stood and held up an ink-stained index finger — voters had their fingers dipped in purple ink to prevent multiple voting. As she waved to the crowd, she held up another finger, making the peace sign.