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“And for all of these families to be in a room with the commander in chief who made the decision to send their loved one in harm’s way is, you know, a wrenching time for us and for them. For all of us, the consequences of the choices that a commander in chief makes are clear. It’s all about them, and their grief.”

Some private meetings with soldiers have been publicized at the request of the soldiers themselves. When Mr. Bush met with Spc. Max Ramsey, who lost his left leg in 2006 while serving in Iraq, and Sgt. Neil Duncan, a double-amputee injured in Afghanistan in 2005, it was Sgt. Duncan who asked for news coverage.

“I wasn’t sure my buddies would believe me,” Sgt. Duncan said, joking with the president. When Mr. Bush had visited him at Walter Reed, the sergeant had vowed to run again, and did so on the White House South Lawn’s jogging track in July 2007.

Although it was a Wednesday, Mr. Bush - who had scheduled a brief run - pulled the two soldiers through the trees to the White House pool after their jog.

“The group of us just sat there for like two hours maybe and chatted. On a whim, he just took two hours out of his schedule. … We talked about personal things, how he feels about the war, what’s been hard, what it’s like being the president, some of the most difficult times for him. It was very, very cool - priceless.”

Sgt. Duncan said he’s glad he got the media to cover what otherwise would have been a private visit. “I thought it would be good for other soldiers to see that. It was a personal accomplishment - I wanted my family and my friends and people that I know and people I’ve never met to see it.”

The vice president, who has been derided in the media as “Darth Vader,” also has operated outside of the limelight to support wounded troops and their families even though he could have made political hay if he had made them public. He and his wife have hosted wounded troops and their families at his residence at the Naval Observatory, arranging for big-name country singers, such as Charlie Daniels and Sara Evans, to provide entertainment.

Pressed whether he ever considered allowing rap music at one of his barbecues for the troops, the vice president laughed.

“No rap, no. The country and western is sort of a compromise between old folks - you know, the big band sound of the ‘50s and the rappers that the younger generation understands,” he said.

Actually, Mr. Cheney did manage to connect troops at his home with the “American Idol” television phenomenon in February, when he hosted an event for about 50 wounded troops at the Naval Observatory that showcased Melinda Doolittle, the big-voiced singer who was a finalist on the sixth season of the hit show.

On June 30, the vice president - code-named “Angler” by the Secret Service for his love for fly-fishing - staged a fly-fishing event on his lawn with a group of wounded troops being helped out by the charitable organization Project Healing Waters.

Rather than the usual rubber waders and camouflage fishing hat, the vice president sported a dark suit, a white shirt, green tie and business shoes but still managed to show off his favorite fly-fishing cast to the troops. Instead of water, he aimed for a bright green patch of grass as the smiling military men and their wives picked up tips and practiced themselves.

Jon Ward contributed to this report.