Tears rolled down George W. Bush's cheeks. Twice, Hildi Halley handed him a tissue. Otherwise, she didn't let up on the president.
``I hold you responsible for my husband's death,'' she says she told him as they sat facing one another, alone in a teacher's lounge, their knees almost touching. ``You made a mistake, and it's your responsibility as a Christian man to end this war.''
``I'm really not here to discuss public policy with you,'' she says Bush told her at the meeting in August 2006, two months after her husband, Army National Guard Captain Patrick Damon, died in Afghanistan.
As the president rose to leave after 20 minutes, he said he hoped the visit would help the Falmouth, Maine, woman heal. Halley, 42, replied, ``What would really help my healing is if you'd start finding a way to bring our troops home.''
Bush meets with many relatives, to his credit. What is amazing, however, is that he only seems to hear the resolve of those who mirror his belief in his war. When meeting family members who affirm the war and tell him to continue, that strengthens his resolve, but when he meets with those who are angry about the war, he "doesn't want to talk policy."
Participants and witnesses say the sessions provide a window onto Bush's compassionate side. ``There are few things as heart-wrenching,'' says former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who attended many meetings. ``Every single time, he'd be moved to tears.''Why should he be any different with them than he is any critic of his policies?
They also reveal his distaste for engaging those who question his policies. Rather than entering into a substantive debate with angry relatives, he disengages.
Another person who criticized Bush to his face was Elaine Johnson of Orangeburg, South Carolina. Her son, Army specialist Darius Jennings, died with 15 others when their Chinook helicopter was shot down near Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 2, 2003.
In her meeting later that month, she says, she repeatedly pressed Bush for a rationale for the war. She says he failed to deliver a satisfactory answer.
`A little Hostile'
``Miss Jones, you sound a little hostile,'' Bush said, according to Jones, who was an industrial quality inspector.
``Of course I feel hostile. My only son was killed and I can't get an answer,'' Jones, 44, says she replied.
Bush moved on to a different cluster of family members in the large meeting room at Fort Carson in Colorado. As Bush departed, Jones says, she tried again.
``Could you tell me what is the mission?'' she called out. Bush didn't respond.
This isn't resolve. It is denial.