The Private Gesture Of Respect That Defined George H. W. Bush
In the intelligence community I was responsible for what was known as “The White House Run” early on in the Reagan administration. This entailed meeting various representatives of the intelligence agencies during the middle of the night in the highly secure Defense Intelligence Agency National Military Intelligence Center in the Pentagon to pass on to me the most current intelligence each agency had to offer. As a 21 year-old United States Marine I was not only the first Marine NCO to do the job but the youngest person ever selected to execute these duties.
I started late in the evening waiting for each courier/agent to arrive. While waiting I would monitor the inbound crypto-communications looking for the most current intelligence available because at 6:45 a.m. I would be departing for the White House. Once at the White House I would enter the West Wing and make my approach to the Situation Room. I would then sit in the President’s chair and lay out what would be the most current and classified intelligence that occurred world-wide.
I would typically exit around 7:15 a.m. Every morning I would pass Vice President Bush in the hallway or as he exited his limousine. I didn’t wear a uniform and my hair, while short, was past Marine Corps regulations. This was intentional. I faded into the background with a dark suit and plain tie. Nothing ostentatious to draw attention. Just me and a leather briefcase with two locking straps.
Every morning I passed VP Bush I would simply say “Good morning sir” or “Good morning Mr. Vice President.” He never failed to acknowledge me. He would look me in the eye and respond in kind with a “Good Morning” and ask me how I was doing.
After a few months I was selected for the personal staff of the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. This meant the end of the White House Run. I often wondered if the VP knew who I was or what I did.
On the last week of my run I decided a uniform change was in order.
Dressed in the Marine Corps Alpha uniform and sporting a proper Marine Corps haircut I made my way to the White House as usual. I set up the Situation Room and made my way to the exit. The VP was running a few minutes late and I saw him in his limo behind the window. Instead of exiting right away as he usually had done he did something that only he and I will know, but you military types will understand and appreciate. He rolled down his window and with a big smile he saluted me. It was truly an ear-to-ear smile. I saluted back, with an unsuccessful try to hold back a smile. But what happened next was a genuine sign of respect. He held the salute until I lowered my hand – then he broke the salute.
Maybe this needs an explanation. It is strict military protocol that the junior person salutes and holds the salute until the senior officer returns the salute. The acknowledgement from the VP with this gesture was a private sign of respect to the highest order. We would do that routine for the next four days – even if I was out of uniform.
That is how George H. W. Bush treated a Marine NCO when no one was watching.