- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

President Bush’s daughters, Jenna and Barbara, feared he would not survive his surprise Thanksgiving visit with the troops in Baghdad. And their mother, first lady Laura Bush, nearly compromised the secrecy of the trip.

Although the president had informed his wife of the pending trip weeks in advance, he waited until an hour before he was scheduled to depart his Texas ranch to break the news to their twin daughters.

“Their first reaction was, ‘That’s fine, Dad.’ And all of a sudden, as it came closer to the departure time, they became a little more — more solemn,” Mr. Bush recalled in an interview with The Washington Times.

“They began to wonder whether this was the last time they’d see me,” he added. “That sounds a little overdramatic, but nevertheless, I’ll just say their hugs — and the hug of Laura — were intense.”

Mr. Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, both wearing casual clothes, then climbed into a red van with two Secret Service agents. They passed right under the noses of other agents at the front gate.

“The guys guarding the house did not know I had gone,” Mr. Bush marveled. “This was done in incredible secrecy.”

The next day, Thanksgiving, Mrs. Bush forgot there would be a delay of nearly two hours between her husband’s visit with the troops at the Baghdad airport and the first airing of television’s videotaped coverage.

She kept checking the news and wondered what had happened. Finally, she picked up the phone and called the Secret Service command center at Prairie Chapel Ranch.

“Where’s the president?” she asked.

“Oh, ma’am, he’s 45 minutes away,” an agent informed her.

Mrs. Bush realized he was referring to the elder President Bush, scheduled to come over for Thanksgiving lunch with his wife, Barbara. Her in-laws, who did not know about the flight to Baghdad, were driving in from College Station, Texas, site of the senior Bush’s presidential library.

“No, no, I meant my George,” Mrs. Bush said.

“Oh, we’ve got him in the house, ma’am,” replied the agent, unaware that the president had slipped out of the ranch nearly 18 hours earlier.

Suddenly mindful and not wishing to blow the secret, Mrs. Bush feigned forgetfulness.

“Oh, yes, that’s right,” she said. “What am I doing? Thanks.”

Shortly afterward, Mr. Bush recalled, as Air Force One climbed to 10,000 feet above Baghdad, he called his wife to “let her know I was OK.”

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