In a small town like Decorah, IA, we don’t get much to get excited about. Sure, there is the fair, Nordic Fest, and the eagle’s nest, but by now, most residents of the sleepy town, are used to these things. So, when President Obama announced a visit to Decorah would be included in his three-day economic bus tour, the town was pumped.
His set route was to pass directly past our house. Naturally, being an Obama fan, in anticipation of his arrival, I had printed two signs, one welcoming Obama to Iowa and one pleading with him to stop to meet me (a future president hopeful) and learn about the story of the USS Kirk.
That day I feverishly prepared for his arrival. We placed the signs about two hours before his arrival, I grabbed a lawn chair and began my wait.
As I was waiting, I kept seeing law enforcement vehicles traveling north towards the border of which Obama would soon cross. This added to my excitement. Soon my father came out and we started waiting. Not long after a family friend arrived and we all began to wait. As we were waiting we realized, it’s too quiet, there aren’t any cars.
Then I heard sirens. Five cars barreled by, all assorted SUV’s and vans of all colors. A minute later another convoy of the same type rocketed past. My father, who had previous political campaigning security experience said he thought that was it. I disagreed, why would the media call it a bus tour, if there was no bus. Also, it didn’t seem as if there were enough vehicles, but then again, military helicopters had been passing over all week on their way to our local airport.
As we were about ready to go, I heard the sound of a helicopter coming our way. Sure enough, a military helicopter passed over, following the motorcades route. Not long after, a state patrol car passed, followed by another, and another after that. A total of 9 or so patrol cars passed before the first secret service, black stereotypical Chevrolet SUV passed. At this point they were taking up the entire road, clocking along at an extremely high speed.
After about 20 SUV’s, a completely black bus came into view, followed by a red one. Unfortunately, the windows in the bus were completely shaded, preventing us from seeing inside. After the two buses, more SUV’s then white press vans, and more SUV’s, then an ambulance, sheriff and police cars.
It was all over in about one minute. All that preparation for nothing. At that speed, he probably didn’t even notice the signs. Even though I hadn’t expected much, I was still disappointed. We went about our normal lives and I dejectedly watched a live stream of President Obama’s “townhall meeting”, which was happening just a couple miles south of us at Seed Savers, a local non-profit organization.
However, we had planned from this. We had a back-up plan. In the fall of 2007, then Senator Obama visited Luther College in Decorah and early the next morning, before leaving, he stopped by the local gym, Team Rehab, and worked out.
My father happened to be a member there, so we planned to go there early and see if he came. At 5 AM the next morning, we awoke. We eagerly prepared, and arrived at Team Rehab at about 5:35, five minutes after the gym had opened. We stayed till about 6:30, then decided he must not be coming because he had an early stop down the road from Decorah. As we exited the building walking towards the car, we noticed a DPD squad car pull into the parking lot. At the time, this didn’t seem strange, being the entire town was crawling with law enforcement of all kinds, and the exit route for the motorcade was probably going to be along this main route, which the parking lot was parallel to.
After grabbing a quick breakfast, we decided to park near the edge of the blocked off zone of Decorah to see if we could catch a quick glimpse. We stood at the corner of the street near Hotel Winneshiek, the hotel at which Obama and his entire entourage was staying. Not long after we got to the corner, a convoy made up of a state patrol, 8-10 black SUV’s, several press vehicles, an ambulance and a police car pulled out of the back parking lot zoomed out and down the street. We disregarded the convoy as the advance team for Obama, since the buses were still around back.
Just then, my TAG teacher, Janelle Keune, the teacher who was the beginning of the entire USS Kirk project, walked up to us and we began talking. She mentioned how she had heard the ambulance had to stay with the President at all times, no exceptions. She then asked a friend of hers what the deal was. The friend said that Obama had gone to the gym. The same gym we had just left 10 minutes prior.
Frustrated, we jumped back into our car, and raced back to the gym. Of course, the entire complex was swarming with law enforcement. I wondered how so many Secret Service agents could fit into those SUV’s. Because the parking lot was blocked off, be parked in a neighboring parking lot.
We walked to the door, were patted down, scanned with a metal scanner and allowed in.
Instantly after walking in the door, I saw him. The President of the United States, was in our gym. Yes, our gym, in the small Iowa town of Decorah. I almost fainted from excitement. After a quick discussion, my father and I walked up to him. It was almost surreal, I was approaching the President of the United States.
After introducing ourselves, we had a short, casual conversion. I then handed him the items I had prepared. I gave him a copy of my recent article from the local paper detailing my project and the story of the USS Kirk. I also handed him a copy of “The Lucky Few”. I quickly explained to him the story of the USS Kirk and my relation to it and said, “These men need to be honored for what they have done,” He replied saying, “Well, thank you. I’ll take a look at this, and we’ll see what we can do.”
That was that, we shook hands, snapped a quick pic, and we both continued our workout, upon Obama finishing his, he got into his motorcade, and he was on his way, as were we. That is the story of how the President of the United States of America received a copy of the story of the USS Kirk.