- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE | Withdrawing from the triumphal inaugural celebration for his successor in Washington, former President George W. Bush said in a series of farewell speeches that he was not “bitter” but satisfied with his tenure as he returned to life as a private citizen in Texas.

“I gave it my all,” Mr. Bush said at a homecoming rally Tuesday evening in Midland, Texas. “Sometimes what I did was unpopular. But that’s OK, I always did what I thought was right.”

The remarks capped a tumultuous two-term presidency in which Mr. Bush’s popularity plummeted from record high job-approval numbers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror strikes to the lowest rankings in history as the country became mired in the Iraq war and a severe recession.

But Mr. Bush said he was confident history would judge him a good president.

At a send-off rally in a hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, before flying home to Texas, he told supporters that history would show that in the administration “we did not shirk our duty” and “we served with conviction.”

Mr. Bush said he was most proud of serving as commander in chief and of leading the service members who helped prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil for the past seven years.

The Bushes departed for Texas aboard the iconic blue-and-white customized Boeing 747, designated Special Air Mission 28000 for the flight instead of Air Force One because Mr. Bush is no longer the president.

The hangar doors were opened for the crowd of about 4,500 people to watch Mr. Bush board the presidential aircraft a final time, escorted by a military honor guard across the windswept tarmac.

Mr. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush paused atop the stairs in front the airplane door and waved to the cheering crowd.

The Bushes were accompanied on the flight by daughters Barbara and Jenna and a few longtime confidants, including former White House adviser Karl Rove.

In Midland, he called Mr. Obama “a good man” and said his inauguration was “a great day for America.” He also said he was excited about pursuing a more leisurely life in his post-presidency years.

“Today is also a great day for the Bush family. We are back in the state of Texas and we are here to stay,” Mr. Bush said. “We left Texas, but Texas never left us.”

Mr. Bush said his determined and optimistic outlook was rooted in West Texas. He said that the West Texas spirit served him well and that even during the most difficult days of his presidency he “was always optimistic about our future.”

After the rally at Centennial Plaza in Midland, where Mr. Bush stopped en route to his own inauguration in 2001, the Bushes flew to Waco, Texas, on their way to their 1,600-acre ranch in nearby Crawford.

They plan to live in Dallas, where they have purchased a home. Dallas was the choice of Mrs. Bush, who has friends in Dallas dating back to her days as an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University, the site of Mr. Bush’s planned presidential library.

Before leaving the White House, Mr. Bush continued the tradition of the outgoing president leaving a note for his successor. The note, left in the Oval Office’s famed Resolute Desk, relayed well wishes and likely some advice for Mr. Obama as he begins one of the toughest jobs in the world.

Mr. Bush penned the note Monday and left it in the top drawer of his desk, which was carved from timbers of the British ship H.M.S. Resolute and presented by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Mr. Obama plans to work at the Resolute Desk as has every post-Hayes president, with the exceptions of Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.

“I won’t provide any details, but the theme is similar to what he’s said since election night about the fabulous new chapter President-elect Obama is about to start, and that he wishes him the very best,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters before the inauguration.

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