The Lope: Bushed

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I never thought that I'd photograph a sitting President of the United States and view it as a parenthetical event, but that was pretty much the case on May 9. Word had circulated a couple days before that George W. Bush would be visiting Greensburg, KS, five days after a tornado destroyed most buildings and houses in the town of about 1,400. I was part of a team on assignment for Land Line magazine and my greatest concern was that Bush's visit would cause a heightened level of security that would inhibit us doing our job and speaking to the truckers that the magazine serves. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem.

We had stayed in Pratt, about 30 minutes away, the night before. On the way back over to Greensburg I couldn't resist this shot of a train passing a billboard for a place that no longer exists. If such businesses do not rebuild, the various billboards will be come poignant reminders of a Greensburg that was.

Bush had flown into McConnell Air force base in Wichita, and taken the Presidential helicopter, Marine One, on to Greensburg where he circled the town a couple times. This is actually one of the accompanying helicopters. It was raining really hard at this point.

This is Marine One, though I didn't know that at the time. I simply photographed all three copters and figured I'd sort it out later. The designation, "Marine One" presently belongs to this Sikorsky VH-3 Sea King, but that is apparently soon to change, according to an article in Live Science. The fact that many of the replacement's parts will be made overseas has spurred some controversy. Read more about the battle for the contract between Lockheed and Sikorsky, here.

We didn't have much hope of being close enough to Bush to photograph him, but I did hope for a good motorcade shot. I waited with much of the rest of the press at the intersection of Main and Ohio, at the north end of the designated press area. I'd been told by several National Guard folks that the motorcade would pass there.

It didn't. I noticed a police car stopped at the intersection of Sycamore and Ohio, one block to the west and had started to cross the street to ask if he knew anymore about the route. I stepped into the street and saw a car full of very heavily armed, dark-clad troops of some sort, who gazed at me observantly though not particularly threateningly. I guess a soaked-to-the-bone guy in a tiki shirt didn't seem like much of a threat. The camera had timed out as I was concealing it from the rain. It did power up in time for me to get this picture of one of the lead vehicles. I was surprised that the whole string of vehicles made no noise. I was expecting to hear a siren.

This is a close-up of the last photo. I still don't know which vehicle carried the President.

The tail end of the Motorcade, having turned off Sycamore onto Ohio, proceeds west, past Greensburg scenery.

I'd heard Bush would go to the Kiowa County courthouse, which suffered relatively minimal damage. Rules as to press movement were confusing and contradictory at this point, and I wandered that way unopposed.

On the north lawn of the courthouse, past a plethora of FEMA trailers, I ran into Congressman Jerry Moran, who kindly confirmed the President's location within the grounds. Here, Moran greets supporters.

Check out the guys on the courthouse roof. Man, this is one place where you sure want to watch your choice of words - no "shooting" a subject rather than photographing them. I'd been mindful of that all day.

That's one luminous smile, Congressman.

After trying a couple other "photographing" positions, I found the most practical view could be had from the top of this wrecked car on the courthouse lawn. These girls thought so too.

And here we are, President George W. Bush in Greensburg, KS. I feel for the lady trying to get her picture through the other guy's head. I hope she got an opening in the crowd like I did.

My impression was that Bush was greeting first responders and volunteers at this point. He was about 1/4 block from me and I was very happy that I had a 12x zoom.

"W" pals around. Earlier that day he had visited a John Deere dealer, revved up a chainsaw for a photo-op and greeted various townspeople in a drive around Greensburg. Opinions I heard varied from "I don't think much of the man" to genuine outpourings of gratitude for the visit. The locals I met on the courthouse lawn seemed to welcome the distraction and, as far as I could tell, it didn't impede anything.

I shot this for republican K-State fans. Here ya go, guys; enjoy the power cat and the pres. I'm having a good year for seeing presidents; I saw Bill Clinton back in March, partially at K-State, as a matter of fact.

And now for someone completely different. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius chats with Kiowa County Sheriff's officer Bill Odle.

It had been a trying few days for Odle, of course. I'm glad to be a voter in a state where the Governor gives comforting hugs.

Major General Tod M. Bunting, Adjutant General of the Kansas National Guard, speaks at a subsequent press conference, back over in the press area downtown.

In the photo below, that's Greensburg City Administrator Steve Hewitt on the left. He gave an account of what happened after he and his family waited out the tornado in their basement to KWCH news; it was a story I heard echoed countless times by other Greensburg residents: "I held my son as he cried, my wife was crying...I walked around the corner, I looked up the stairs and I saw nothing but sky - no more house. I walked up and looked and - no more neighborhood"

On the right is Kansas State Representative Dennis McKinney of Greensburg; he and his daughter huddled in a basement bathtub while their house dissolved above them. Right after the tornado's passage, McKinney personally rescued his neighbor and her one year old baby from the rubble of the neighbor's house.

Underlying the presence of both Sebelius and Bush in Greensburg was the knowledge that she'd been critical of National Guard resources being deployed in Iraq, thus making fewer such resources available domestically. When asked if she had discussed this with Bush that day, she said she had not, but that she had before and he was well aware of her concerns. She then focused on the possibilities of a rebuilt Greensburg as a "green" city.

"The Lope" Greensburg posts as of June 11, 2007:
Remembering Greensburg
Greensburg Before and After
Greensburg "After" - Downtown
Greensburg "After" - Highway 54


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very nice blog and I think I will link your site into my own personal blog so more can see it. I was searching the net for articles on Bill Odle My brother from Greensburg and came across many but I am impressed with your blog the most. THanks!

Wed Jun 13, 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger Ace Jackalope said...

Hey there, anonymous brother of Bill Odle, I have some pictures he might want. Have him send me an email.

Thu Jun 14, 12:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey the Ace i am Bill Odle writing to you today to give you a special thanks. The article was very nice and now that i have had a little time to look back it is even better, i would love to see what pictures that you may have of me my email is again thanks.

Wed Jan 02, 01:12:00 PM  

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