Traveling under extraordinary secrecy to ensure his safety, President George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Baghdad in November of 2003. According to a USA Today news report, Bush “shared a holiday dinner with U.S. troops in a military mess hall at Baghdad International Airport."
Wearing a grey army jacket and with his eyes reportedly wet with tears, Bush strode out as about six hundred American soldiers leapt to their feet and cheered. In his remarks, the president said:
Thank you for inviting me to dinner...I can't think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all. We're proud of you. Today, Americans are gathering with their loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. And this year we are especially thankful for the courage and the sacrifice of those who defend us, the men and women of the United States military...
You're engaged in a difficult mission. Those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will. They hope we will run. We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins...
On this Thanksgiving, our nation remembers the men and women of our military, your friends and comrades who paid the ultimate price for our security and freedom. We ask for God's blessings on their families, their loved ones and their friends, and we pray for your safety and your strength, as you continue to defend America and to spread freedom.
Each one of you has answered a great call...You live by a code of honor, of service to your nation, with the safety and the security of your fellow citizens. Our military is full of the finest people on the face of the earth. I'm proud to be your commander in chief. I bring greetings from America. May God bless you all.
To the troops great surprise, President Bush then stood in a chow line and dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a huge platter of turkey.
Because of security concerns, Air Force One had landed in Baghdad with its lights dimmed and window shades closed to minimize chances of it being made a target. And news of the top-secret trip wasn’t made public until after Air Force One was back in the air, heading back to the United States.
Of course, earlier that week, President Bush had pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkey at the White House, marking the 56th anniversary of the annual event. Apart from some gobbling while the president spoke, the lucky turkey, according to CNN, “was generally well behaved during the Rose Garden ceremony."
Once again referring to the courage of American troops, President Bush, standing next to the relieved turkey, said:
It speaks well for America that one of our most important holidays is set aside for sharing and appreciating our blessings...This year, as in other times in our history, we can be especially grateful for the courage and faithfulness of those who defend us.
The same holds true today, as always.
FAST FACT: George W. Bush wasn't the first American president to visit troops on the front-line on Thanksgiving Day. His father, George H.W. Bush, visited U.S. troops at a desert outpost in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day in 1990.
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