A Trip to Vail, Colorado…or Not

A special story I have never told before…

A text snippet from the section called “31 Days Hath September”…

On Sunday, August 10th, I made a special trip up to The White House because I knew that the Ford family was leaving on their annual summer vacation to Vail, Colorado. I wanted to make sure Liberty had a really good run before boarding Marine One for the short flight to Andrews Air Force Base where the president’s plane would be waiting.

Arriving a little before 11:00 I went upstairs to the second floor of The Residence after checking in first with the ushers office. Mrs. Ford was busy packing and taking care of last minute details before leaving on the trip while the president’s dog eagerly looked on. I visited with the First Lady for a few minutes and then took Liberty down the elevator and out onto the South Lawn.

From the Oval Office the president has a fairly clear view of his backyard and it wasn’t long before he noticed his dog and me. It had become pretty typical for me to be out with Liberty and then for a Secret Service agent to tell me that the president wanted to see me in his office. Today was no different.

After I felt that Liberty had enough time to relieve herself I took her to Nell Yates’ office just outside the Oval Office. The adjoining door was open and the president motioned for us to come in. He was alone just going through some papers that were on his desk. We sat across from each other on the couches in the center of the room and he petted and played with Liberty while we talked.

After a few minutes he began to ask questions…something that he almost always did when we were together. He was typically a very good listener…a great listener actually. But on that day, not so much.

“What do you think about Liberty making the trip to Colorado?” he asked.

“No problem,” I replied.

“Even with her being pregnant?” he questioned.

“She’ll be fine,” I assured him.

I could tell that he was not satisfied yet and that there was more he want to say…or ask.

“I’d really like for her to make the trip with us,” he continued.

“Mr. President, there’s no reason that she can’t travel and enjoy this vacation with you and your family,” I said. “She’s not that far along and everything will be just fine.”

“I’d like for you to come along,” he said.

This caught me completely off guard…no way was I expecting him to ask that. I had just returned from a week long trip to Oregon to have Liberty bred which created hardships for my two co-workers in Video Tape Recording. I was the “Trick Chief”, or team leader, of a three person crew that was tasked with a job that really required three people to properly perform. I had not shared with him how I felt about leaving my team understaffed for a week while I was away with Liberty less than a month before. Nor did I really want to now.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said. “She’ll do just fine without me.”

This conversation continued for several minutes with the president applying some gentle “arm twisting” while I resisted as best I could.

Many of my co-workers at WHCA traveled extensively with the president, vice-president, and Secretary of State. They kept suitcases packed and in their vehicles, ready to go on a moments notice. I did not. My job did not require travel. While not having a packed suitcase was not my real concern, I did try to use it as a reason why I couldn’t go.

“You can ride out with us on the helicopter and Air Force One,” he said. “We have a layover in Arkansas before flying on to Colorado and I can make sure you get anything you need while we are on the ground there.”

For everything I tried, he had a fix. For every reason I gave as to why I couldn’t go he had a solution. I felt like I was losing the battle but I was determined that I was going to win. And we were running out of time…

“Walk with me,” he said as he stood up.

So we left the Oval Office and walked together (with his Secret Service detail and military aide) along the Rose Garden colonnade and up to the second floor of The Residence. The conversation continued as we walked. I insisted that Liberty would be fine and he gently reminded me that he really wanted me to go. After about a half hour upstairs his military aide came into his private study to tell him it was time to board Marine One, the presidential helicopter. Our dilemma remained unsolved.

On the way downstairs and out onto the South Lawn I finally had to tell him why I couldn’t go. I simply could not leave my co-workers understaffed again…it wouldn’t be fair to them or, quite frankly, to me. Although I did not tell him, I was already taking a lot of “heat” from some of the officers in my chain-of-command because of my very close relationship with him. It was easy to see that now he understood. I knew he was disappointed but he did not let it show.

“Okay,” he said, “I understand. But can you keep Liberty for me while we are gone?”

“Yes, sir…if that will make you feel better I can do that,” I said.

And so that’s where we left it. I shook his hand and wished him safe travels. He and Mrs. Ford boarded Marine One and Liberty and I went back to my home in Dale City, Virginia where I kept her for the next 12 days. Of course she would go to work with me each day, hanging out in her outdoor kennel and around the West Wing when I was at work in the Executive Office Building.


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