MIDLAND, Texas – George W. Bush returned Tuesday to a West Texas welcome, declaring himself happy to be back as a private citizen after eight rocky and eventful years as president.
“I’m coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment,” Bush told a crowd of several thousand that jammed Centennial Plaza.
Bush leaves office among the most unpopular presidents in history. But here in his staunchly Republican boyhood hometown, a sea of well-wishers turned out to cheer his return.
The rally marked a bookend of his pre- and post-presidency. Eight years ago, he attended a final sendoff from the same town square before leaving the state for his own inauguration.
Tuesday, after watching Barack Obama’s swearing-in as the new commander in chief, Bush returned aboard the blue-and-gold Boeing 747 that carried him around the world as president. Before touching down, the jumbo jet flew low over the Midland crowd, glinting in a late-day sun.
On stage, Gov. Rick Perry revved the audience by praising Bush as a Texan who faced big challenges.
“We stood by this president during some of the darkest days the United States of America has been through,” Perry said. “George Bush understood something – we’ve got to be strong militarily. If people strike America, we strike back.”
The Midland High and Robert E. Lee High School bands played, the Gatlin Brothers and Lee Greenwood sang, and the thousands jamming the plaza waved Texas flags and cardboard W’s.
Bush called it “a great day for the Bush family. We are back in the state of Texas and we are here to stay.” Afterward, he and wife Laura flew to their Crawford ranch. The Bushes will divide their time between the ranch and their new home in Dallas.