Clinton visit thrills crowd

April 23, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE and CLYDE FORDs

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The sound of a nearby lawn mower was drowned out by the loud chop-chop-chop of first two, then four, then eight, Marine Corps helicopters.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore arrived at Harpers Ferry in style.

Security was tight for Wednesday's Earth Day visit of the nation's top two executives.

Dozens of police and U.S. Secret Service officers fanned out around the presidential entourage.

There were officers on foot and atop horses and motorcycles. Others were in cars, vans and sport-utility vehicles.

Those attending Clinton's speech at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park passed through metal detectors and had their bags searched.


Five CSX coal cars were lined up on the railroad overpass to block any possible sniper on the hill above Harpers Ferry.

The crowd started to gather near the point where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet at about 10 a.m. Boy Scouts in khaki uniforms walked in under their troop banner.

A cluster of Brownies in their uniforms walked in, holding hands.

Students from C.W. Shipley Elementary School, Harpers Ferry Junior High and other schools sat together.

"We get to hear the president talk about the environment and protecting it for us and our children and our children's children," said Adrienne Sowers, 14, a freshman at Harpers Ferry Junior High.

To Emily Bauer, 10, a fourth-grader at C.W. Shipley, the best part of the day was "getting out of school."

U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., drew loud cheers when he told the Jefferson County students they had him to thank for getting them out of school to attend the speech.

Wise said it was a historic day for West Virginia, the first time a president and vice president were in the state at the same time.

"It's a great day, West Virginia. It's a great Earth Day '98," Wise said.

The vice president listed the schools attended by the students present and drew applause from each contingent.

Gore said he would like to return some day to examine the phlox he and the president planted to fight hillside erosion.

The flowers were partially trampled by photographers as they followed the president and vice president.

Both Clinton and Gore looked relaxed in khaki pants and short-sleeved blue shirts.

Meeting the people

After the speech, Clinton and Gore walked along the barrier separating them from the crowd, shaking hands with people.

Prekindergarten students and teachers from Jefferson County Head Start RESA VIII were among the first the president approached.

Jan Warner of Hagerstown, an education-disabilities manager, held up a sign saying, "President Clinton, you have been a good friend to Head Start."

"Clinton gave us a thumbs up and he personally told me thank you," Warner said.

As he walked past, she gestured for him to autograph her sign and he did.

Classroom aide Rita Amenta passed Clinton a button that said, "Celebrating the Week of the Young Child."

Three seniors on the Jefferson High School yearbook staff had their picture taken with Clinton.

"We just pushed through the crowd and asked him," said Allyson Gaither of Shenandoah Junction.

A group of 10-year-olds from Jefferson County were thrilled just to see the chief executive.

"I thought this was more educational than school," parent Diana Walch said. "And funner," said her daughter, Audra.

Kathy Carza of Harpers Ferry listened to Clinton while her two children, Leslie Anne, 8, and Laura, 3, were at her feet. Carza was at the back of the crowd trying to catch a view of Clinton.

"I couldn't see him very well, but it is still worth it," she said. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Brett Koonse, 39, of Harpers Ferry, was across from the barrier with his dog, who like the president's is named Buddy.

"I had a little chat with the president," Koonse said. "I said, 'Look I brought my dog, Buddy, along with me to work.' So it was kind of cute."

Koonse said he wanted to show support for Clinton and Gore so he took the day off from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The whole town has been excited all week. We've been talking to the Secret Service agents all week," he said.

Nina Orsini of Martinsburg, W.Va., lifted her son Dominic, 7, onto her shoulders for a better view of the president and vice president.

"We decided this was worth taking off of school," she said. Dominic said it was worth the four hours he had to spend standing.

The boy also got to shake hands with ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson.

"This is really exciting," said Lynn Sibley, 50, of Rohrersville, who was in the right place at the right time to get a seat near the front of the stage.

"He looks just like himself," she said.

Other spectators weren't so fortunate.

Laura Begg, 37, of Mont Alto, Pa., walked a mile and a half and waited two hours.

"If I could just see the top of his head," she said.

Some spectators who couldn't see the stage passed their cameras to tall strangers kind enough to snap a few pictures.

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