Molly Brenner looked up an old Navy buddy of her late father Friday. They had a brief chat, posed for a picture, shook hands and said goodby.
Brenner wished the old Naval aviator could have visited a while longer, but she understood when he rushed off. After all, the President of the United States does have a few other pressing concerns.
The quick meeting with President Bush, who was in Santa Ana on Friday for an anti-drug rally, was set up after Brenner wrote to the White House and requested to see the former Navy lieutenant who was shot down in the Pacific in 1944 and rescued by the men of the USS Finback. Among them was her late father, James Griswold.
“We couldn’t believe he granted our request,” Brenner said. “He said, ‘Of course I made time for you guys--I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the men on the Finback.’ I think he’s a hero.”
Upon learning that Bush would be in Santa Ana, Brenner sent a letter by express mail to the White House and requested a meeting. To her surprise, a White House communications aide phoned on Tuesday to verify her identity.
The communications officer made no promises in the phone call, and Brenner said she didn’t hold out much hope as the week went on. But Thursday morning, at 9:30, Brenner learned that her family was going to meet the President.
Armed with special credentials, Brenner, joined by her son, Ted, 16, her daughter Amy, 13, and her husband, Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner, were taken to a VIP tent at Santa Ana Stadium on Friday, where they posed for a photograph with Bush and met many of the other dignitaries and celebrities in attendance.
“The kids got to meet (Bush) and shake his hand,” Brenner said. “They haven’t washed their hands yet. They met (Rams quarterback) Jim Everett. The whole scene was just amazing. What a day! They were on cloud nine.”
While it was the first time her children and her husband met the President, Brenner herself is an old hand at presidential protocol. She and her mother, Molly Griswold, were invited to a special reception in Washington for the Finback crew, their families and survivors during Bush’s inauguration. James Griswold died in 1973.
“It was a small, intimate affair,” Brenner recalled. “He was absolutely warm and wonderful, he genuinely cared.”