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Lodi veteran meets Bush in Stockton

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Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 10:00 pm

Tuesday may have been the best day of Gerry Lee's life.

Minutes after meeting President George W. Bush, Lee, a Lodi native and Iraq War veteran, learned his son's cancer is curable.

"I'm so happy I'm almost ready to cry," said Lee clad in a green Army dress uniform, his eyes welling up with tears.

President Bush came to Stockton to campaign for Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy. He spoke about national security to a crowd of 650 Republican supporters at a $250 per plate fund-raiser breakfast.

Lee, 28, was invited by the White House to lead the pledge of allegiance before Bush's speech.

He said he was a little nervous before getting on stage at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, but still tried to enjoy the breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit and muffins that was served before the pledge or Bush's speech.

"I looked up the pledge online to refresh my memory," he said. "The breakfast was good, but I didn't touch the eggs with spinach."

After saying the pledge, Lee was taken backstage where he met with Bush for about five minutes. He said he asked Bush to pray for his three month-old son, Lucas, who is in the hospital in San Francisco undergoing chemotherapy for a rare type of eye cancer.

As he was meeting with Bush, Lee said he called his partner and mother of Lucas, Sherry Moon, who was in the hospital with her infant son.

"I asked the president if he could say a few words to Sherry, and he said, 'Get her on the phone,'" Lee said. "He told Sherry, 'Me and Laura will pray for you,' and he told the hospital staff to take good care of Lucas."

Lee said the president gave him a ceremonial coin, a tradition in the military, with the words "commander in chief" on one side and "White House" on the other.

After speaking with Bush, Lee said he talked to Moon on the phone who told him the doctors will probably be able to cure Lucas's cancer and restore his vision.

Quotes

"I had to ask my five year-old, Is this right?"
- Gerry Lee, Lodi native Iraq War veteran, on practicing the pledge of allegiance the night before reciting it in front of 650 people.

"He has a lot on his plate."
- Kay Mettler, Lodi business owner, after hearing president Bush's speech.

"I thought it was a good speech, very upbeat."
- Gail Kautz, Lodi winery owner, who has heard the president speak six times.

"I'm here trying to speak the truth about our country. We have a government that sells fear and propagates mistrust."
- Bryan Pilkington, Lodi Unified School District third-grade teacher and Lockeford resident who joined the protest outside Bush's speech.

"It's obvious Pombo's in trouble if the President shows up here. President Bush doesn't want to lose what Republicans he has left."
- Penny Knapp, of Stockton, executive vice president of the Communication Workers of America union, Local 9417, which represents workers in Lodi and Stockton.

"There are no words to express how I'm feeling right now," Lee said.

Lee, an Army National Guardsman who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently found out that his latest deployment to Iraq would be deferred so he could stay home and help take care of his son. Congressman Pombo's office wrote a letter to Lee's commander requesting the deferment.

After Lee's meeting, President Bush and Pombo took the stage. After a brief introduction by Pombo, Bush spoke for about 45 minutes, mostly about homeland security and the war in Iraq, and he thanked the troops.

"I especially want to thank Specialist Gerry Lee, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan," Bush said. "It's an honor to be commander in chief of such fine men and women in uniform."

About 20 Lodi Republicans attended the breakfast including Gail Kautz, owner of Kautz Ironstone Winery and Kautz Farms. She said she was pleased that the president backs Pombo, who she said is known for his support of agriculture.

"President Bush understands the need to support agriculture," she said. "He understands and appreciates the needs we have."

Kay Mettler, a small business owner in Lodi, said she liked the president's message of securing the nation.

"I thought it was great," she said. "He is trying to keep us safe. All of us want to be safe and that is a major issue."

Contact reporter Matt Brown at mattb@lodinews.com.

First published: Wednesday, October 4, 2006

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