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Singing for the Commander-in-Chief

Members of The American Legion’s Boys Nation and The American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls Nation showcased their singing talents at a July 25 visit to the White House for a photo opportunity with President Barack Obama.

While waiting for about an hour for the president to arrive, the Legion Nation – already positioned on risers for group photos – briefly turned the West Wing into a concert hall. Led by Past National Commander Bob Turner, the high-school students sang impressively, filling the air with renditions of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “This Land is Your Land” and other patriotic favorites.

The White House’s official videographer, Hope Hall, asked the Nation for some musical assistance for “West Wing Week,” the White House’s web-based program that recaps the week’s events concerning President Obama.

Hall asked the students if they could come up with a musical chant of the program’s title that she could use as the intro for the next episode. The Nation obliged her, spontaneously – and collectively – improvising a three-note “West Wing Week” chant accompanied by rhythmic hand-clapping.

Hall taped their performance and was so impressed that she put down her camera and bowed to them. The Nation’s chant should be part of the Aug. 1 episode of “West Wing Week,” available online.

When President Obama did arrive, he received thunderous applause from the 196 young men and women, along with staff members of the Boys and Girls Nation programs.

“First of all, I’m sorry I’m a little late,” the president said. “I had three presidents from other countries here. Those things usually go long.” In fact, Obama had just finished meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, working with them to find ways to deter the continuing influx of Latin American children into the U.S. border.

Obama said it was “wonderful” to be with Boys and Girls Nation again. “I want to thank The American Legion for all the great work that you do every single day, and this is always a wonderful occasion, just because we have such impressive young people, and all of you I know are from all across the country.”

The president told the young men and women they were already using their leadership skills in their schools and their communities.

“It gives me great confidence when I meet all of you,” the president said, “because I know the country’s going to be in good hands in the future … and I expect to see a whole bunch of you doing all kinds of great things in various capacities in the future.

“Even if you don’t end up being active in politics and government, you’re still going to be citizens, and if you’re in business, or you’re in a profession, or some other type of work … make sure that you’re well informed and that you’re participating in our democracy ….

“That makes the country better … I know that we are always very proud of what you do and I want to thank all the older adults. They obviously make enormous sacrifices as well, to help ensure that this is a great experience for you. So thank you all for the wonderful work that you do.

Then the president posed for photos, joking with Boys Nation that he did not want to see any “rabbit ears” behind his head. Then he said, ““You guys always do a great job on the songs. I’ve got to hear my birthday song.”

The nearly 200-voice-strong choir their Commander-in-Chief, singing “Happy Birthday, dear Mr. President….”

Because of his earlier meeting, Obama was pressed for time and could only shake hands with the Boys and Girls Nation staff. But the young men and women hid their disappointment well, and the president left the West Wing the same way he had entered – with thunderous applause.

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