Donning a suit and tie, along with his “World War II Veteran” hat, Herman Patterson of Charlotte, N.C., was able to do something he has dreamed of for many years. Flanked by Opal, his wife of 62 years, a daughter and a granddaughter, he proudly approached the book-signing table in the Billy Graham Library where George W. and Laura Bush sat, waiting to greet him. He and the former president shook hands and exchanged thanks to one another for service to our country.
Patterson, 90, shares a military service connection with the Bush family. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1941 to 1964 and was in the Pacific Ocean on an LST (Landing Ship Transport) in 1943 when the elder Bush was shot down by enemy fire.
“I spent years in the Navy and always loved the Bushes–both father and son. We wanted to see them and get the books, as well as visit the grounds of the Billy Graham Library. I think he did some great things as president,” said Patterson.
He was also thrilled to see Billy Graham. “He grew up not far from where I live right now, and we’re very close in age; he’s just a year or so older than me.”
His daughter and granddaughter arranged the visit as a way to honor him. Jessica Espinosa, his granddaughter, was emotional after experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with her beloved grandfather. She even followed in his footsteps of military service; she served in the U.S. Air Force when Bush was the Commander-in-Chief.
“My grandparents are my world. They mean so much to me, and for my grandfather to get to meet George Bush–it couldn’t have been a better day,” she said tearfully. “I’m so thankful.”
Four weeks ago, Debbie Matthews of Charlotte, N.C. told her sister, Carol Taylor, also of Charlotte, that there are two people she wants to meet before she dies: George W. Bush and Billy Graham.
Matthews’ trip to the Billy Graham Library for this event was a gift from Taylor. “I know how much she thinks of the Bush family, so when I heard he was going to be here, I knew that had be my gift to her,” said Taylor.
As she suffers from stage four lung cancer, Matthews does not take opportunities like these lightly. She fought back happy tears as she described meeting her favorite U.S. President of all time.
“It’s hard to even talk right now. One of my greatest lifetime desires was to meet him and with the cancer I have, this was probably my only chance,” explained Matthews. “I’m so blessed that I got to see him today. I just think he was a fabulous president. I think he is ‘real’ and that he genuinely cares about people.”
Matthews and Taylor left the Billy Graham Library with more than an impression of George W. and Laura Bush; they left having experienced the love of Jesus Christ. Taylor was emotional as she described the way the staff at the Billy Graham Library showed compassion to her sister.
“All of the people at the Billy Graham Library have cared for her so well here. When we waited in line for so many hours for our wristbands, they made sure she had a seat when she needed one and they made sure she was as comfortable as possible,” she said through tears. “This is a true example of what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is all about.”