Bush, Cheney comforted troops privately: Met with thousands of war injured, kin out of spotlight
For much of the past seven years, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have waged a clandestine operation inside the White House. It has involved thousands of military personnel, private presidential letters and meetings that were kept off their public calendars or sometimes left the news media in the dark.
Their mission: to comfort the families of soldiers who died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to lift the spirits of those wounded in the service of their country.
On Monday, the president is set to make a more common public trip - with reporters in tow - to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, home to many of the wounded and a symbol of controversy earlier in his presidency over the quality of care the veterans were receiving.
But the size and scope of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's private endeavors to meet with wounded soliders and families of the fallen far exceed anything that has been witnessed publicly, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the effort.
"People say, 'Why would you do that?'" the president said in an Oval Office interview with The Washington Times on Friday. "And the answer is: This is my duty. The president is commander in chief, but the president is often comforter in chief, as well. It is my duty to be - to try to comfort as best as I humanly can a loved one who is in anguish."
Mr. Bush, for instance, has sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice. The task, along with meeting family members of troops killed in action, has been so wrenching - balancing the anger, grief and pride of families coping with the loss symbolized by a flag-draped coffin - that the president often leaned on his wife, Laura, for emotional support.
"I lean on the Almighty and Laura," Mr. Bush said in the interview. "She has been very reassuring, very calming."
Mr. Bush also has met privately with more than 500 families of troops killed in action and with more than 950 wounded veterans, according to White House spokesman Carlton Carroll. Many of those meetings were outside the presence of the news media at the White House or at private sessions during official travel stops, officials said.
The first lady said those private visits, many of which she also attended, took a heavy emotional toll, not just on the president, but on her as well.
Washington Times - EXCLUSIVE: Bush, Cheney comforted troops privately