- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

NEW YORK "I love America because I love freedom."

Those are the words President Bush wrote on a large piece of poster paper titled "Why We Love America," hung on the blackboard in Debra Nelson's first-grade class in Room 204 of DeSoto Elementary School.

"Do you know what? There are a lot of people who love America today," the president said to the fidgety youngsters, some of whom went on drawing with crayons as he talked.

In his second visit to New York City in the wake of the terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush sought to comfort the children, whose school suffered smoke damage from the assault on the World Trade Center and was closed for nearly a week.

"A lot of people care for you, they really do starting with your moms and your dads and your teachers here. A lot of people love you, too," he said.

The president told the children that teachers in New York City are heroes because they are trying to help children understand the events of Sept. 11.

"And if you've got any worries about what took place at the World Trade Center, they can help you. Some of you yes, they do want to help you, sure. They want to comfort you and they want to make sure that you understand what went on."

Mr. Bush's entry on the poster joined those of the children, including one that read "I love America because we fight off anything that stands in our way" and another that said "I love America because the flag is nice and because it has good restaurants."

As Mr. Bush spoke, Amy Ng drew in her notebook, coloring a flag, a little girl with a black ponytail and a large heart beneath the words: "I love America because America is great and free. I love America because America is strong and brave."

The classroom was typical of most in the first grade, with one exception: A new sheet on one wall described "Shelter Drill Rules," telling students "During a shelter drill we find a spot in the hallway. Do not stand next to a door or glass window. Face the wall to protect yourself."

Before departing, Mr. Bush led the Pledge of Allegiance.

In a hallway outside the classroom, Mr. Bush stopped and looked at drawings on the wall, many in crayon, depicting planes crashing into buildings. The exhibit was titled: "How We Feel About Sept. 11." He checked out other areas on bulletin boards titled "How Can We Help You, Mr. Fireman?" and "The Day We Were Very Sad."

The stop was just one of many in a poignant visit to the city, where 90 percent of the World Trade Center still lies in a pile of rubble.

After his stop at the school, Mr. Bush went to Engine 55, a company that lost five firefighters in the collapse of the twin towers.

Passing by a makeshift shrine to the fallen men made up of candles, flowers, flags and a rosary the president paused and put his hand on the shoulder of a fireman.

"I know you lost still looking for some of your brothers. We're pulling for them. I know you're loving your families. I thank you for your courage," he said.

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