Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Bush avoids demonstrators

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

Mirroring the country's political divisions, veterans' reactions were mixed after they heard President Bush's speech Monday to the 105th Veterans of Foreign Wars convention:

"He was impressive. But he's under the gun to make promises. It remains to be seen whether he will keep them after the election."
- Albert Thomas Jr.,Darby, Pa., Korean War veteran, semi-retired cardboard-box industry executive

"He promised a lot. But I don't think it'll really happen. The president should know you should not promise that which you cannot deliver."
- Gene Bess, Elkview, W.Va., Vietnam War veteran, retired carpenter

"He did a good job. He said he was going to take care of the veterans in the VA hospitals. They deserve it."
- John Bestervelt, Comstock, Mich., Vietnam War veteran, electric motor repairman

"I don't care what he has to say. The only thing you'll see of me when he starts to speak is my back as I leave the room."
- Richard Stuart, Washington, D.C., Vietnam War veteran, retired Department of Justice law enforcement officer

"He was great! I was glad to hear that I'm not going to have to give up the medical benefits I fought for."
- Bob Patterson, Elkton, Md., Vietnam War veteran, three Purple Hearts, Veterans Affairs administrator

"I was not initially in favor of the war in Iraq. Now we're stuck. He's already in office. We just got to go with what we got."
- Brenda Gomez, Warwick, R.I., Persian Gulf War veteran, 100 percent disabled
--Cliff Radel

About 100 people gathered Monday morning outside the Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center to give President Bush a piece of their mind.

But they never got the chance.

Shortly before 11 a.m., Bush slipped inside the building through a side entrance, away from any demonstrators and onlookers.

Most were supporters of Democratic challenger John Kerry, judging by the number of signs in his favor.

They included 52-year-old Tim Steineman, Ohio coordinator of Veterans for Kerry.

"We're here to get this campaign back on the issue of military leadership and away from the president's attempt to distort John Kerry's service in Vietnam," said Steineman, who lives in Indian Lake, Ohio.

Darrell Shelton, a Bush supporter, became a sidewalk demonstrator by happenstance.

The Price Hill man said he intended only to get a picture of the president, but when a police officer told him that Bush wasn't likely to make a public appearance, Shelton grabbed a sign from a fellow Republican that said, "Viva Bush."

"Despite inheriting a recession and the attack on 9/11, I think the president has turned around the economy," said the 38-year-old Shelton, a construction worker. "Someone who can handle that deserves four more years."

Not everyone was particularly partisan.

Andy Black, a 25-year-old account executive with a downtown recruiting firm, stood on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets. Black is a Bush supporter but was content just being an onlooker, he said.

Veterans Tim Steineman, left, of Indian Lake, Ohio, and Paul Davis, of Union Township, carry signs outside the Sabin Convention Center Monday.
(Enquirer photo/GARY LANDERS)
Jim Miller, a delegate to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, ended up on the sidewalk, shut out of the event. The 60-year-old Army veteran from New Bern, N.C., left the convention center at 10 a.m. to do some business at his hotel room.

When he returned 30 minutes later, police had closed off the building in preparation for Bush's arrival and wouldn't allow Miller - or anyone else - back inside.

"Can you believe this?" Miller asked, leaning up against a lamppost on Fifth Street. "Seems like George has taken over this convention."

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