- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

For the first presidential inauguration since the September 11 attacks, it seems only fitting that the newly minted Commander in Chief Ball honoring the armed forces would draw some of the night’s biggest names.

It was the last of the nine official balls attended by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. It was the only one former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, attended. And Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff were there.

“We love every single one of you, we love your families, we pray for you every night,” Barbara Bush, one of only two women to be both a president’s wife and a president’s mother, told the estimated 2,000 enlisted personnel.

Three Marine buddies who had all served in Iraq attended the free event at the sumptuous National Building Museum, saying the president should stay the course in the turbulent country.

“Everything’s going well in Iraq right now,” said Marine Sgt. Chad Taylor, 22, of St. Charles, Va. “When has the United States ever failed a mission? We’re going to do what we have to do.”

Mr. Rumsfeld, peering out at a sea of uniformed men and women, said he stopped by “to look all of you in the eye and tell you how much we appreciate what you’re doing for the country.”

The balls, the majority held at the Washington Convention Center, highlighted a day filled with security zones, protesters and a historic speech by the re-elected president.

Mr. Bush and the first lady made their whirlwind tour of the nine events starting at the Constitution Ball at 7:40 p.m. on schedule, but arriving at their last stop, the Commander in Chief ball, more than an hour ahead of schedule.

“I love my wife, Laura, and I am looking forward to dancing with her, maybe for the first time in four years,” Mr. Bush joked at the Constitution Ball before taking her hand for a dance that lasted all of 45 seconds.

At the Commander in Chief Ball, Mr. Bush and Mrs. Bush each danced with a U.S. soldier — Mr. Bush with Spc. Jazmin Azcona and Mrs. Bush with Lance Cpl. Richard Devon Hansen.

Mr. Bush also whirled with his first lady at the Stars and Stripes Ball featuring Republican boosters from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki and his wife, Libby, looked on as that ball’s spotlight hit Mrs. Bush’s Oscar de la Renta gown with luminous results.

The band did its part, playing the theme from “Laura,” the 1944 film noir whose star, Gene Tierney, had a passing resemblance to Mrs. Bush.

It was as much glamour last night as it had been belt buckles and bolo ties the night before at the Texas Wyoming Ball — and a little bit of attitude to boot.

“I guess they decided to stick all the rowdy ones in the same room,” Vice President Dick Cheney cracked before taking his wife, Lynne V. Cheney, on the dance floor to a jazzed-up version of “The Way You Look Tonight.”

The ball scene wasn’t restricted to older partygoers. Jessica Dallimore, 10, of McHenry, Ill., soaked in the glittering gowns and festive colors at the Freedom Ball in Union Station with her mother, Beth.

“I kinda saw him,” Jessica said of her near-encounter with the president. “But it was awesome.”

Some female ticket holders, stuck in unrelenting traffic, ditched their taxis and hoofed to the Washington Convention Center on stiletto heels.

Lisa Powers, 42, of Alexandria, waited in the long coat check line at the Independence Ball and said she was exhausted from just walking in.

“It is so worth it,” the public relations professional said, reflecting both on the night and Mr. Bush’s inaugural address earlier in the day.

“It spoke to me personally. He’s very passionate and he cares a lot about the country,” she said. “Four years is not enough.”

Sen. George Allen of Virginia got into the spirit, donning a bolo tie and genuine Republican pride.

“This is the most important election since Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Allen said.

The senator can thank the battleground state of Ohio for the margin of victory

The Ohio-centric Patriot Ball drew about 6,000 and one very grateful vice president.

“You guys were fantastic when the chips were down and it really counted,” Mr. Cheney said.

Kathie and Jeff Anderson felt the same way about the president.

The Cincinnati couple met Mr. Bush a few months after losing their 29-year-old son from the September 11 attacks.

“He stopped what he was doing, he kissed me and said, ‘Are you OK?’” Kathie Anderson recalled. “I told him I appreciated what you did on September 14th [when Mr. Bush visited New York City]. He said, ‘You’ve made my day.’”

Christina Bellantoni, Joseph Curl, Amy Doolittle, Julia Duin, Marguerite Higgins, Stephanie Mansfield and Thomas Walter contributed to this report.

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