Intense security dominates 55th inaugural
It was four American president inaugurals ago but one I will never forget.
As an online newspaper editor in 2005 for a large newspaper group, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Washington, D. C. to cover the inauguration of President George W. Bush.
This Week newspaper editor Tad Johnson and I were dispatched to the 55th inaugural mainly because the Lakeville High School band was marching in the inaugural parade.
When approached by ECM Publishers manager Eric Olson to attend the inaugural activities, I didn't have to think twice. I knew that this might be the only opportunity I would have to cover a presidential inauguration.
The date was Jan. 20, 2005.
As we witness intense security for President Joe Biden's inauguration, mainly because of events of Jan. 6, 2021, I could remember the high security I saw first hand with the Bush inauguration.
The 2005 inauguration brought 4.4 million people to Washington, D.C. Security was everywhere, Secret Service agents were on every rooftop between the U.S. Capitol and the White House, a distance of 1.7 miles.
Since Biden's inauguration is fresh on our minds, I choose to share some of my writing from the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush.
REFLECTIONS ON GEORGE W. BUSH INAUGURATION
By HOWARD LESTRUD
Washington, D.C. -- One of the largest displays of Secret Service, police, security officers and military displays ever was rolled out in Washington, D.C. for one of the city's biggest celebratory events that comes every four years, the Presidential inauguration.
This writer was given the opportunity to be in Washington, D.C. to cover the 55th Inaugural activities including the inauguration itself and the appearance of the 343-member Lakeville High School Marching Band in the 1.7-mile parade.
Thanks to the Inaugural Committee's credentialing for the parade and the assistance of Eighth District Congressman James Oberstar's office, this reporter/photographer and Tad Johnson of Thisweek Newspapers were able to get close to the action.
Our strategy for Thursday, Jan. 20, Inauguration Day and Tad Johnson's birthday, was to split up. I would take the Metro to Union Station near the Capitol and would cover the inauguration of our 43rd president. Tad would take the Metro, too, but at a different time, and would journey to the Pentagon to meet up with the band in the staging area. We would then take two separate working posts, Tad going to 7th and Pennsylvania and me, I would catch up to the band close to the beginning of the parade which was on 4th St. and Pennsylvania.
The strategizing worked as I utilized two Blue tickets given to us graciously by Jonathan of Oberstar's office. Following our meeting Wednesday, I asked Oberstar's staff member if he had better tickets than standing room. He said not at the time but if he had someone cancel, he would call me on my cell phone. Two hours after we left his office, my cell rang and it was Jonathan, saying he had two blue (seated) tickets and they were ours for the taking. We walked through a snowstorm between government buildings and plucked off the tickets.
The tickets worked like a charm on Inauguration Day. After departing the Metro at Union Station, I followed large signs, pointing to the site of the inauguration. Color coded seating signs for blue, red, yellow, green and gold seating or standing then pointed this southern Minnesota farm boy in the right direction.
Showing my tickets, I was directed to the Secret Service screening tents. The screening was thorough, all equipment, jackets and the like searched. It was the most thorough padded search I had endured. I was cleared and from that point forward, I was not bothered. Follow the arrows and that I did as I ended up in Section 11, less than a football field away from the speakers' rostrum that would hold President Bush about 3 1/2 hours later at noon. It was good fortune that I went in early because I ended in the third row, right on the end and straight away from the stage.
Ushers tried to have us move down the end about 25 seats across and away from the center of vision. I held out and guarded the end chair and also picked up two more constituents, Cindy and Chuck Bluth of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Pretty soon, more people wanted to claim seats next to me. Chuck summoned the military person in command in the ushers who instructed us to sit where we wanted. We didn't leave our seats from that time forward.
As we would peer behind us to the mall and the Capitol reflecting pool, we began to see throngs of people gather. People began to dot every inch of the landscape in front of the Capitol and surprisingly we saw or heard no helicopters overhead and we also heard very few sirens. At about 10 a.m., a choir began to perform and soon later, a U.S. Army band.
The real fun and excitement began when the more well-known political types began to arrive for the inauguration. The most notables were former presidents Bill Clinton and wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara and Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalyn. When Mass. Sen. John Kerry was shown arriving in the gallery, many partisans began to boo. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich arrived as did former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole with his wife, Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
The tempo continued to rise as live video coverage on the big screen showed President Bush leaving the White House and beginning the trip to the Capitol with First Lady Laura Bush. Video continued to raise the crescendo as it showed Vice President Dick Cheney and wife Lynne arriving at the Capitol. Formal introductions were then made prior to President Bush arriving to be sworn in for a second term.
Cheney was the first to be sworn in and it was done ceremonially but quickly by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, then administered the oath of office to President Bush.
The 31-word oath went as follows: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Bush's 21-minute inaugural address featured promises that this president would not shrink from new confrontations in pursuit of "the great objective of ending tyranny."
Bush said, "Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon." Thousands of protesters greeted Bush at the inauguration and on the parade route. Late in his speech, some protesters in our seating area began to chant in opposition to the president and another unfurled an uncomplimentary banner. Police responded quickly and walked away with two people in handcuffs.
Bush uttered not a word on Iraq. His speech contained 2,000 words of passion and promise for his second term but no direct mention of the war that could sink it.
Bush focused on the global war against terrorism and said, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." Bush emphasized the battle against tyranny -- a word he used five times and used "liberty" 15 times. He echoed the word "freedom" 27 times.
Following the speech, I hustled down to Constitution Ave. in an attempt to find a spot for the parade. After learning that the parade started on Fourth St. and Pennsylvania, I headed that direction.
I was forced to zig-zag away from direct access since many street outlets and inlets were closed. At one time I was caught in a mass of humanity, everyone shoulder to shoulder trying to squeeze through barricades put up by security. I finally found an opening but then was swept right in the middle of some protest gatherings.
Finally, I made it to Sixth St. where I found a nearly empty bleacher section. I coerced a young security man to let me take up a position on the corner of the bleachers and thus wait for the Lakeville High School Band to march my way.
My location was good but at the start of the parade, anti-Bush protesters dotted the landscape in front of the parade route. As soon as Bush's caravan cleared, the protesters cleared out, too.
The Lakeville band then was introduced and zipped through the parade route in about 60 minutes, performing strongly the tunes of Minnesota Rouser and the Minnesota March time and again. Tad was able to step out in front of the band as it marched up Pennsylvania. His reward resulted in great photos to be sent to the Lakeville Life & Times just before deadline.
Both Tad and I marched beyond the White House and then headed toward our hotel at Dupont Circle.
It was an amazing day for a couple of Minnesota newspaper editors. History was now behind us.
I love history and it is a memory I will cherish forever. I was also able to collect some impressive photos, photographing the ceremonies from afar with a 300 mm telephoto lens.
I was amused to see myself in a photo printed in the Washington Post.
Yes, I was there and I have proof.