As you may know, the President and Mrs. Bush visited the Washington Burn Center on Friday 14 September. Among those they visited was LTC Brian Birdwell, who was badly burned in the Pentagon attack. Mrs. Bush went into Brian's room, spoke to him for about a minute, all the time as if they had been life-long acquaintances. She then turned to Brian's wife Mel, who at this time had been at the hospital for probably 2 1/2 days, and apparently, according to Mel herself, was dirty, grimy and had blood on her shirt. Mrs.Bush hugged Mel for what Mel said seemed like an eternity, just as if Mel were one of her closest family members. Mrs. Bush then told Brian and Mel that there was "someone" there to see him.
The President then walked in, stood by Brian's bedside, asked Brian how he was doing, told him that he was very proud of them both and that they were his heroes. The President then saluted Brian. Now, at this point in time, Brian is bandaged up pretty well. His hands are burned very badly as well as the back of him from the head down. His movements were very restricted. Upon seeing the President saluting him, Brian began to slowly return the salute, taking, from the accounts so far, about 15-20 seconds to get his hand up to his head. During all of this, 15-20 seconds, President Bush never moved, never dropped his salute. The President dropped his salute only when Brian was finished with his, and then gave Mel a huge hug for what also probably seemed like an eternity.
As a note to those of you who might not be familiar with military protocol, the subordinate normally initiates a salute and will hold it until the superior officer returns the salute. In the above incident, President Bush acted in the role of the subordinate to show his respect and high regard for the injured man.
No further comments.
Major Carl Buhler, USAF Air Force Executive Issues Team (AFPAZ)