Never mind that some children and even some Marines didn’t know that Margaret Thatcher had been the prime minister of Great Britain for almost 12 years.
They came out to cheer her anyway Thursday as she visited this sprawling Marine base to thank Marines and their families for bringing the Persian Gulf War to “such a splendid conclusion.”
“The only way you can retake territory is on land,” Thatcher told a gathering of 1,400 Marines at the base’s School of Infantry. She noted that Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told her in Washington that Marines had played “a very critical part” in reclaiming Kuwait from the Iraqis.
The visit to Camp Pendleton and a speech Thursday night at the Industrial League of Orange County marked the second day of her first visit to Orange County.
Earlier in the day, Thatcher experienced traffic congestion Southern California style. Her motorcade got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic near the Ortega Highway exit of Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano, where a newspaper delivery truck had struck a parked tractor-trailer, killing the delivery truck driver.
Inside the base, Thatcher’s first stop was at the San Onofre School for children of Marines, where she immediately received a yellow Desert Storm ribbon pin.
Eighth-grader Emily Kahler presented Thatcher with a red T-shirt, making her an honorary member of the school’s student council. School officials said that at least 70% of the 875 students--who are in kindergarten to eighth grade--have a parent who served in the Persian Gulf.
“Your Marines and our soldiers worked very closely together in the desert,” Thatcher told about 400 children, ages 10 to 14, in the school’s assembly hall. “We have been friends for a very long time, and we hope that this friendship continues in your generation.”
She also visited the school because she has “an American grandchild who will soon be going to school so I wanted to see what your education system is like,"said Thatcher, who served as secretary of education before becoming Britain’s first female prime minister.
Thatcher was referring to her 3-year-old grandson, who lives in Dallas with his 37-year-old father, Mark Thatcher, who married an American.
After brief visits to a couple of classrooms, Thatcher stepped into the schoolyard, where some adults and children brushed past State Department and Scotland Yard security to get her autograph.
“I put her right next to God,” one man said, after securing Thatcher’s autograph.
Diane Marchese, a kindergarten teacher, said: “It means a lot to these kids for her to come here and say how much she appreciates their daddies for fighting in the war.”
“We’re going to be on TV!” beamed first-grader Michael Duncan as he skipped about excitedly in front of the television cameras. “We’re going to meet Margaret Thatcher.”
The 6-year-old, however, shrugged his shoulders when asked if he knew who she is.
At the School of Infantry, one Marine said Thatcher was “a state senator”; another guessed that she was an “American congresswoman.”
“She was above us,” surmised a corporal, who sat in a camouflaged light-armored vehicle shown to the former prime minister. “She was working for us in Congress.”
Thatcher moved on to the mess hall, where she sat with base Gen. Michael Neil for a lunch of chicken noodle soup, double-baked potato and roasted pork loins.
On Thursday night, Thatcher received a standing ovation before she addressed more than 1,000 people at the Anaheim Marriott.
She said the allied troops must remain in Iraq until the turmoil in that country subsides or until the ouster of President “Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime.”
“We cannot resolve the internal problems of Iraq, but we hope the people of Iraq will deal with Saddam Hussein, who has wreaked havoc and disaster upon them,” she said.