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Crowd marvels at President Bush’s drop from the sky June 15, 2009

Posted by Ageless Dreamer Foundation in Inspirational Stories.
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By SHAWN P. SULLIVAN
Copyright Permission by Foster’s Daily Democrat

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Someone looked up into the sky and declared, “There he is!”

Everyone turned their attention to the clouds, from which former President George Herbert Walker Bush materialized and descended toward the earth with the grace only a parachute could provide.

The crowd clapped and cheered when Bush touched ground on a landing zone behind St. Ann’s Church on Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport. A few of them had taken pictures to capture the event and share with family and friends back home.

Wait a minute.

Not so fast.

Moments later, another person in the crowd once again directed everyone’s gaze to the skies. There, dotted against the parting clouds, were several more daredevils parachuting through the sky, whipsawing through the air at occasional sharp angles.

There looked to be about three of them at first. Then four or five. After more looking around and counting, the consensus of the crowd was that there were eight parachutes in the sky.

If that first jumper wasn’t Bush, then which one of the eight above was he?

Josh Carpenter, of San Antonio, Texas, had no problem picking out which one was the 41st president of the United States. He had a camera with a strong zoom-in lens and spotted Bush through the eyepiece. As the parachute in question drew even closer, the crowd could discern that it was the only one in the sky carrying two people. Sure enough, the press had reported earlier that Bush would be making a tandem jump from the plane.

Former President George H. W. Bush rides tandem with Sgt. Michael Elliott of the Army Golden Knights parachute team as he celebrates his 85th birthday with a parachute jump, Friday, June 12, 2009, over Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP Photo/Army Golden Knights, SSG Joe Abeln)

Former President George H. W. Bush rides tandem with Sgt. Michael Elliott of the Army Golden Knights parachute team as he celebrates his 85th birthday with a parachute jump, Friday, June 12, 2009, over Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP Photo/Army Golden Knights, SSG Joe Abeln)

Bush turned 85 years old on Friday and celebrated the milestone with a feat of daring that he already had famously accomplished a handful of times before. He leaped 10,500 feet from a plane and made a parachute jump. A member of the United States Army’s Golden Knights made the jump with him.

All five of Bush’s children — including his son, former President George W. Bush — greeted him when he landed. So, too, did former first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush, as well as 14 grandchildren, two brothers and a sister.

On Friday morning, it almost looked as though the jump would have to wait for the next day. The region woke up to heavy showers. At around noon, though, the clouds lightened and parted, and shortly before Bush touched ground at 1:30 the day turned hot, bright and sunny.

These parachute jumps have become a tradition for Bush as he’s made his way through his golden years. He jumped to mark his 75th and 80th birthdays as well. He last jumped in November 2007 at the reopening of his library at Texas A&M University.

The first time he jumped from a plane, though, he did not have fellow Americans cheering below to greet him. Instead, as a young Navy pilot, he parachuted from his plane when it was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

After Friday’s jump, Bush told reporters that he had two reasons for taking the birthday plunge: he wanted to experience the feeling of free-falling, and he wanted to prove that senior citizens can stay active and have fun.

“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner,” he said. “Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.”

An hour before the jump, local police blocked off a stretch of Ocean Avenue for security. Onlookers caught Bush’s jump from the nearby beach and getty, from benches along the sidewalk, and from perches on high, jagged rocks that met the creeping tide of the ocean.

Peter Reed, of Hypoluxo Island in South Florida, was in Kennebunkport with his family to celebrate his in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary.

“This was a surprise for us,” he said of Bush’s moment in the sky. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Reed’s son, Peter, who skipped stones across the waves during the event’s down time, said Bush’s jump was “really cool.” At 10 years old, the younger Reed had not yet come into the world when the elder Bush served as president from 1988 to 1992.

Jason Heinz, of Chesapeake, Ohio, was in Kennebunkport on Friday with his wife, Jennifer, and many of his cousins. This year, they picked Maine. He, too, was surprised to learn in one of the local newspapers that Bush was planning to jump from a plane.

“That’s something you don’t see every day, an 85-year-old ex-president jumping out of the sky,” he said. “You don’t see that in Ohio very much.”

At least two of the onlookers on the rocks hailed from even farther than Ohio or Florida — Hans and Turid Christensen were from the country of Norway. The Christensens had been vacationing in Canada but figured they’d swoop down into the United States for a couple days.

Hans Christensen called Bush’s moment “beautiful.”

Staring across the water to the reception taking place where Bush landed, Christensen added, “It’s fantastic, at 85 years old to be doing that. He must be some president.”

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