Bush celebrates the Fourth with
friendly crowd in West Virginia

By Sandra Sobieraj, The Associated Press
Friday July 05, 2002

RIPLEY, W.Va. – In a small-town square festooned by stars and stripes, President Bush paid little mind to July Fourth terrorism fears while celebrating America’s history and her heroes. 

“We love our country only more when she’s threatened,” he declared on the first Independence Day since last year’s Sept. 11 attacks. 

He recalled another, far more distant moment in American history when the world changed forever — the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

“From that day in 1776, freedom has had a home and freedom has had a defender,” Bush said. 

Saluting all who serve in the U.S. military, he offered immediate eligibility for citizenship to 15,000 recent immigrants enlisted in the Armed Forces on active duty. 

“These men and women love our country. They show it in their daily devotion to duty,” he said. 

The annual festivities in Ripley, population 3,400, are billed as the nation’s biggest small-town Fourth of July celebration — so neighborly an occasion, in fact, that Bush jokingly offered to hang around afterward and help clean up. 

Even as security concerns canceled Ripley’s annual pancake breakfast and 5K run, the holiday here was set on edge more by politics than the terrorism worries that had police, military and FBI officials out in full force across the nation Thursday. 

In a Norman Rockwell-styled square, massive flags and red-white-and-blue bunting framed the Jackson County Courthouse steps as Bush, his hand on his heart, led the crowd of thousands in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. They shouted for emphasis, “one nation, UNDER GOD!” — the phrase cited as unconstitutional by a federal appeals panel in San Francisco late last month. 

Bush, who has called the ruling ridiculous, drew a thunderous ovation when he defied the court again on Thursday. 

“The American people, when we pledge our allegiance to the flag, feel renewed respect and love for all it represents. And no authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God,” the president said. 

Bush narrowly won strongly Democratic West Virginia in the 2000 presidential election. 

Just before Bush arrived by helicopter from the Charleston airport, the Rev. Jack Miller of West Ripley Baptist Church got the morning’s program off to a partisan start with his invocation: 

“We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of multiculturalism. We have been forced to honor sexual deviance in the name of freedom of expression. We have exploited the system of education in the name of the lottery. We have toyed with the idea of helping human life in the name of medical research. We have killed our unborn children in the name of choice.” 

Ripley spent days polishing the town and Bush felt the hospitality from the moment Marine One touched down: Eighty-one-year-old Mabel Chapman personally mowed several acres of her front lawn to make a landing zone for the president and his five helicopters. He thanked Chapman with a kiss, hug and thick black autograph on the back shoulder of her white t-shirt. 

Bush said a special thanks to those in the military today and yesterday, whose service he called “the highest form of citizenship.” 

The executive order that he signed on Wednesday eliminates the three-year waiting period for citizenship consideration for immigrants serving on active duty during the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism. 

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost of Texas, who has written legislation more broadly easing the path to citizenship for military personnel, welcomed Bush’s announcement as reinforcement of “the valuable service of those who do not share the benefits of citizenship but willingly shoulder the responsiblities necessary to secure those benefits.” 

As Bush left town, the White House announced a decision unlikely to please many West Virginians.