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Bush pays homage to nation's 1st president

MOUNT VERNON, Va.—Was it like this at Valley Forge?

People huddled together, marched in place and danced jigs for warmth on a frosty field outside George Washington's historic home Monday, as President Bush paid homage to the nation's first president, whose 275th birthday is Thursday.

"I feel right at home here," Bush told some 2,000 shivering people who braved morning temperatures in the low 20s to listen to the nation's 43rd president praise the first one. "After all, this is the home of the first George W."

Bush turned to a man who was portraying Washington at the festivities and thanked him for welcoming him to the late president's spacious estate on the banks of the Potomac River, about 16 miles south of the White House.

"He doesn't look a day over 275 years old," Bush quipped.

After laying a wreath at Washington's tomb, Bush drew comparisons between America's first wartime president and the current one. He likened Washington's struggles in fighting for and forging democracy to his global war on terrorism.

"Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life," Bush said, without specifically mentioning Iraq. "And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone."

The president and first lady Laura Bush made a spectacular entrance to Washington's estate. Their green helicopter, Marine One, landed a few yards from Washington's house, spraying up a misty cloud of powdery snow. Onlookers—mostly students on class trips—rushed to get a closer view of the presidential helicopter.

Before Bush arrived, the crowd had spent most of its time trying to stay warm, just as Washington's Continental Army did at Valley Forge during the bitter winter of 1777. Folks moved to the beat of piped-in fife and drum music Monday to keep their toes from freezing. A fife and drum corps was to have performed live, but decided against it for fear the frigid temperatures might ruin the historic instruments.

The bracing weather didn't bother 36-year-old Danielle Frank, of Woodbine, Va. She bundled up her family and drove to Mount Vernon. Asked whose idea it was to get up at dawn on a school holiday to go stand in an icy field for a brief presidential speech, 6-year-old Adam Frank pointed at his mom.

"It's Presidents Day," Danielle Frank said. "We should be doing something presidential with the kids, and I'm not sure they're doing White House tours."

Sarah Woodin, 14, accompanied the Franks to Mount Vernon, a bold move for someone who'd recently arrived in the Washington area from Florida. For her, the visit to Washington's home was time well spent.

"I like learning everything about history," she said. "You need to know where you came from."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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