One State of the Union Moment
By Gene Harper
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2005 Two women provided the most touching moments during President Bush's State of the Union address Feb. 2.
Janet Norwood and Safia Taleb al-Suhail embrace at the Feb. 2
State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. Norwood's son, Marine Sgt. Byron
Norwood, was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 13, 2004. Al-Suhail is
an Iraqi who voted in the Jan. 30 elections. White House photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
They had so much, yet so little in common. Destiny -- and a bit of planning -- brought them together in a testament to America's fight against global terrorism.
American Janet Norwood and Iraqi Safia Taleb al-Suhail were seated with the president's wife, Laura Bush, in the House chamber perched above the ground- floor level where the president was delivering his speech to Congress. Al- Suhail was next to the first lady; Norwood, with her husband, Bill, was directly behind al-Suhail.
The president followed modern custom by introducing his special guests at opportune moments during his address. First, the spotlight shone on al-Suhail. The president called her "one of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates."
"She says of her country," he said, "'We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all to the soldiers.'"
The senators, representatives, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Cabinet members, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other invited guests heard Bush relate how Saddam's intelligence service assassinated al-Suhail's father 11 years ago. "Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country," Bush noted, "And we are honored that she is with us tonight."
Amidst thunderous applause, al-Suhail stood and alternately waved her index finger and gave the two-fingered Iraqi peace sign, her hand visibly shaking all the while.
Bush continued his speech, laying out successes and challenges facing Iraq, and then talked about the Norwoods.
He said that the Norwoods had traveled from Pflugerville, Texas, to represent their late son, Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood, killed in action on Nov. 13, 2004, in the fierce battle of Fallujah, Iraq, to wrest control of the city from insurgents.
"His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror," the president said, "She wrote," he continued, 'When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him, like I had since he was born.'
"He just hugged me and said, 'You've done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you.'"
Bush then introduced the couple, who were both moved by the extended applause they received. Janet especially could barely contain her emotions, her lip quivering and eyes watering.
Then came the defining moment: Al-Suhail turned around and embraced Janet. People nearby and the millions of television viewers around the word could clearly see Janet clutching her son's military dog tags as she hugged al- Suhail. There they were -- the ultimate symbols of the war against terrorism, liberated citizen and grieving mother, representing the burdens and hopes of democracy.
But there was more: To add to the poignant symbolism of this unfolding drama, as the two women parted, the dog tags became entangled in al-Suhail's clothing. Janet Norwood carefully freed them. All the while, applause continued, with the president and first lady still looking on proudly.
"In these four years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events," Bush continued after the assembly had just witnessed the symbolic hug. "We have known times of sorrow and hours of uncertainty and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us."
Janet Norwood and Safia Taleb al-Suhail are the literal embodiment of that purposeful unity.
"The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom's power to change the world," Bush said. "We are all part of a great venture: to extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings."