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Blogging the Convention: A night to honor patriotism and service

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 3, 2008 - The mood inside the St. Paul Xcel Energy Center began with anxious anticipation. This was the night that the convention really started, with the big names giving big speeches. We were ready.

During the prelude to the main attractions, we listened to politicians, soldiers, preachers and parents. The theme of the night was "Country First" and "Service," messages emblazoned on red and blue rally signs were distributed throughout the arena. In addition to the speeches, video tributes to Republican greats like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush emphasized how these leaders put their country first. Each video tied these men to John McCain. For example, the Reagan video called Reagan a maverick who believed in "conviction politics," and noted that McCain was a Reagan foot-soldier.

The Missouri delegation had great seats. The Missouri alternates sit to the left, facing the stage, and about eight rows behind the VIP box. From this vantage point, we have a clear view of anyone entering the box. We watched the McCains and Bushes move in and out, each time causing a stir as delegates and alternates strained to take a picture.

The first President Bush looked weathered, with a chiseled face and worn body. He moved slowly and deliberately. Barbara Bush still looked feisty as she climbed the stairs. Cindy McCain listened so intently as Fred Thompson told of her husband's tribulation in captivity, like it hurt her to hear again.

You could almost breathe the patriotic emotion filling the room. The longest and loudest applause came following the video of Michael Monsoor, a Navy Seal who won the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers in Iraq. For several minutes, the family of this fallen Seal received a standing ovation from the crowd, many who had tears in their eyes. Then five winners of the Medal of Honor were recognized. For the first time of the night, loud cries of "USA! USA!" rang throughout the convention hall. Then two dozen POWs who were held with McCain were recognized, again to prolonged applause. And then all veterans -- the first President Bush being the most prominent -- were thanked.

Tuesday night, Laura Bush was just as graceful as the day before. It was not until she looked straight into the camera after the president's video address that I realized that this was the last big political event that she or her husband would attend while in office. She was saying goodbye.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson electrified the crowd. The crescendo reached a fever pitch when he proclaimed that we did not need a president who thought that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby was above his pay grade. That almost brought the house down. Afterward many wondered where this Thompson was during the presidential primary.

Sen. Joe Lieberman concluded the night perfectly with his brave appeal for Americans of all parties to unite behind the McCain-Palin ticket. Considering the repercussions that he will certainly face from the Democratic Party, Lieberman spoke strongly and passionately.

Leftovers from lunch

I just wanted to fill in some details from Tuesday's lunch. The luncheon's first guest was Roberta McCain. Mrs. McCain looks and moves far younger than her 96 years, and should be Exhibit A for anyone who questions Sen. John McCain's health. The legendary McCain spirit is manifested in her eyes -- they still dance. She spoke proudly of her son's integrity, leadership and experience. This loving mother tried to express her gratitude to the people in the room for their work to help McCain win this election, but she couldn't find the words to adequately express her thanks. At one point, she finally said, "You know what I'm trying to say." Mrs. McCain finished by telling us that we inspired her, and then she was whisked away to another event.

The Medal of Honor recipients spoke next. Col. Bud Day, McCain's cellmate, recounted meeting the pilot named "the crown prince" by the Vietnamese, and how McCain looked "like death warmed over," with a fever and weighing less than 100 pounds. Day explained how the North Vietnamese wanted to release McCain, but that McCain would not take early release under any circumstances, never hesitating to choose "death before dishonor." The other Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Roger Donlon, spoke about character and its importance.

Beacon reporter Bob Joiner covered the speeches by Michael Steele, John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani in detail, so I will offer just a few other quotes and observations. Michael Steele has a commanding presence, with a smooth speaking style that is also rich with passion. John Bolton exudes intelligence. And Rudy Giuliani was his usual, exceptional self.

The most humorous moment of the luncheon came when Sen. Christopher Bond introduced Mayor Giuliani. After listing all of Giuliani's successes, Sen. Bond told the crowd that accomplishing such feats in New York city was "no small stump to jump." Giuliani began his speech by joking about the comment, and after his speech, Bond announced that Giuliani would be an honorary Missouri stump-jumper. No doubt that will be listed high on the resume.

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