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Dashing and Dancing

At the Balls, the Guests of Honor Had Places to Go & People to See

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page C01

Red: The streets of Washington ran red last night with elated Republicans, flowing to and from nine official balls -- and several unofficial ones. In tailored tuxes and glittery gowns, more than 50,000 folks from all over the country gathered to rejoice in the second inauguration of George W. Bush as president of the United States.

White: Stark white headlights sliced through the wintry blackness as the lengthy motorcade propelled Bush and his wife, Laura, from ball to ball to ball, a little ahead of time and always quick to move on.

Basking in the glow of his inauguration, President Bush and Laura Bush waltz at the Commander-in-Chief Ball at the National Building Museum. (Rich Lipski - The Washington Post)

Blue: Much bluer than the silvery-blue gown worn by the elegant and enigmatic first lady were the Democrats and anti-Bushites who congregated at counter-balls to commiserate.

And green: Money and the military permeated the festivities.

The president's first whistle-stop -- shortly after 7 p.m. -- was the American Legion's Salute to Heroes veterans' ball at the Capital Hilton.

In black tie, Bush was greeted by shouts of "We love you, Mr. President!"

He told the crowd, "The thing about America's veterans is they have set such a fantastic example for those who wear the uniform today."

The black-tie dinner, given by the American Legion and veteran service organizations, is not an official ball, but every president since Dwight Eisenhower has begun inauguration night by paying respects to the military. There were 1,200 guests at the affair, including 79 Medal of Honor recipients and some military bigwigs.

One of the recipients, Drew Dix, said of Bush: "He's the one I want to lead the country at this time. We are at war, but he's very appreciative of the young men and women and the sacrifices they're making. You can't just say, 'Go to war.' You have to understand what the price is."

Looking relaxed and confident, Bush scanned the audience and quipped, "Looks like a pretty good crowd."

He then delivered a mini-version of his inaugural speech, this time mentioning both Afghanistan and Iraq and his quest to bring democracy to both countries. "It's going to happen. And when it does, our military and those of us who are fortunate enough to be involved with the military will be able to look back and say, 'We did our duty. We did our duty for freedom and we did our duty for generations of Americans to come.' . . . I am incredibly proud to be your commander in chief."

'It's Time to Share'

In long black overcoat and matching Resistol cowboy hat, former Wyoming governor Jim Geringer put the night into perspective before the Texas-Wyoming ball. "This is a celebration!" he said. "We believe the country has chosen the right president."

But, added Geringer, this is also a launching party. The president has set the country on a mission "to spread the opportunity for democracy."

Geringer said, "Let's do it. Now is not the time to hesitate."

"We enjoy good fortune," said Geringer's wife, Sherri. "It's time to share."

An Evening of R&R

Dress blues and dress greens, not to mention ribbons and medals riding the chests of proud soldiers, filled the Commander-in-Chief Ball, thrown for troops and their families, at the National Building Museum.

A band played heartland music -- country and western and rhythm and blues. Partygoers wolfed down barbecue served from massive buffet tables, and stood in long lines to have their photograph taken in front of the Presidential Inaugural Seal.

U.S. Army Spec. Gary Hill sounded like a soldier who could use a lift from his commander in chief. Hill, 27, served 14 months in Iraq with the 240th Quartermaster Battalion out of Fort Lee, Va. He worked with a medevac unit. He's seen enough, he said, and yet the service was an honor. Early in the evening he waited for Bush's arrival.

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