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'This is history'

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? — ? — ? — ? — — — — — The president's short visit leaves a wealth of enduring memories


George W. Bush may have spent just four hours here Thursday, but it was a time many Rogue Valley residents will remember for the rest of their lives.

This is history. It was worth it. It was definitely well worth it, said Grants Pass resident Paul Liddycoat, who was at the Medford airport parking lot with his two children hoping to catch a glimpse of the president. He didn't see much, he said, but I'm still glad I came.

Bush landed at the airport shortly after 10 a.m. to greet local dignitaries and receive a briefing on wildfires still burning in Southern Oregon. A motorcade led by Medford police escorted the president to Ruch for a tour of the Squire fire. Then he returned by motorcade to the Jackson County Expo, where he gave a 47-minute speech to more than 5,000 supporters.

About 2 p.m., he left for Portland to attend a &

36;1 million fund-raising dinner for U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith and the Republican Party.

Hundreds of residents lined the fences at the airport and parked along Crater Lake Highway to watch Air Force One touch down on Southern Oregon soil.

Some got a closer view. From her table at the Red Baron restaurant on the edge of the airport runway, Frances Stephen was set to see a little bit of history.

We're just so excited about having the president, said the 58-year-old Grants Pass woman, growing teary as she peered out the large glass windows. It's special because he's our president. It's so precious to us.

She and her husband, Edward, 86, were among a couple dozen people whose morning pancakes and omelets arrived with a side of presidential pomp and circumstance.

Waitresses wearing T-shirts that read God Bless America gawked alongside camera-toting patrons in the coffee shop decked out with patriotic balloons, confetti and American flags.

There it is! people crowed as the presidential plane landed.

Under the scrutiny of roof-top snipers and strategically placed security guards, police and Secret Service agents, the president shook hands with Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, Sen. Smith and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.

Then Bush left the ranks of elected officials to shake the hand of Bern Case, airport director.

Whooie! Opportunity of a lifetime. It has nothing to do with security, so you can quote me on that, said Case, grinning. That was just incredible. Wow.

For Ashland resident Deborah Heatherstone, who protested at the airport with the sign Fire is natural, government is not, the presidential visit was a moment of frustration. She was angry she couldn't see Bush in person and that Bush orchestrated an arrival that would be closed to the public's view.

He tricked us again. It's kind of rude, Heatherstone said.

In Jacksonville, the four corners of Oregon and California streets, where the presidential motorcade was scheduled to pass on its way to Ruch, were packed with adults, children, dogs and homemade signs as people waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president.

The Emori family, including Susumu Emori, 95, Sumi, 90, and their daughter Grace, 64, awaited the procession on the sidewalk. Susumu sat in a wheelchair with an American flag draped across his lap.

The three Japanese Americans had been sent to an internment camp during World War II.

We actually went to the White House for the signing (by President Reagan) of the reparation for Japanese Americans interned during World War II, said Grace.When a familiar face waved to the crowd as the motorcade rounded the corner, the crowd erupted in a scream.

It's the greatest day since Rutherford B. Hayes came here! said Jacksonville resident Larry Smith, referring to the 1880 visit. Smith was among those who had the good fortune to plant themselves on the northwest corner and see President Bush wave as his car quickly rounded the corner.

It was thrilling to see him, said Judith Lyons of Jacksonville. I think he enjoyed seeing the children with the signs.

Back at the Expo, local legislators and government officials waited for Bush's speech, which was televised live on several national networks and led Thursday evening's network news.

As he waited with other VIPs to go into the speech, state Rep. Rob Patridge mused about the ironies of history.

As a Boy Scout, I carried flags for the ceremony when (President Ronald) Reagan was here, the Medford Republican said. It's neat being a Boy Scout then and an elected official now ' the work I did in the Boy Scouts inspired me to do what I'm doing today.

Jackson County Commissioner Ric Holt, hearing that Laura Bush is a fan of the movie Gone with the Wind, thought he could give the president a little something different from Southern Oregon ' a photograph of himself as Melanie's baby in the movie.

So just before the president arrived at the fairgrounds, Holt handed the autographed picture to one of Bush's aides.

I said, 'Now you have to give me one,' Holt said.

When asked how the staffer replied, Holt noted, What could he say?

President Bush?s speech at the Jackson County Expo Thursday covered a wide range of issues, from new policies regarding forestland management to homeland security to malpractice insurance. He was applauded 60 times. Click the photo to see a larger (40k) version. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell