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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 4, 2010

President Obama and his family leave Isles after Hawaii vacation

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

President Obama and Michelle Obama wave before heading back to Washington, D.C.

ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Obama motorcade leaves the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, where the president paid his respects at the grave of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham.

ALEX BRANDON | Associated Press

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HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE — President Obama wrapped up his 11-day Christmas vacation in his hometown of Honolulu last night and boarded Air Force One for the 4,800-mile flight to get back to work in Washington, D.C.

During a private, sunset tour of the Honolulu Zoo earlier in the day, reporters asked the president and first lady if they were ready to fly back to the Mainland, according to a media pool report.

President Obama led the group response: "No!"

First lady Michelle Obama added, "Let's stay," according to the pool report. "We'll all stay. Are we all in? I'm trying to mount a coup."

At Hickam last night, about 50 people passed through two security screenings to bid aloha to the first family.

The 10-vehicle, presidential motorcade arrived at 9:54 p.m. and first daughters Sasha and Malia immediately bounded up the steps to Air Force One as Obama and the first lady greeted Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; Gen. Gary North, commander of Pacific Air Forces; and Col. Giovanni Tuck, commander of Hickam's 15th Airlift Wing.

Tuck's son, Nick, 14, said it "was cool to have the president here. You don't often get the president coming to your state or town."

Like dozens of others, Ramy Casicas, a senior airman with the 15th Operational Support Squadron, hoped for a chance to shake the president's hand, which did not happen.

"My commander asked me if I wanted to meet the president," Casicas said. "I couldn't turn that down."

Many of the onlookers who hoped for a chance to meet the president went away disappointed.

"Especially since this is the one place where it's safe for him to meet (people)," said Marcia Vanderwood, as she walked to her car after Air Force One was out of sight.

Vanderwood had waited for 2 1/2 hours hoping that the president would walk past the cordoned-off area as he and the first lady did when they arrived at Hickam on Christmas Eve.

Instead, Obama escorted the first lady up the steps to Air Force One at 10:02 p.m., then turned and waved before entering the plane.

The first family's departure was closed to the public after a security-conscious vacation that followed a now-familiar itinerary in the president's hometown: Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay; a private visit to Sea Life Park; dinner at Alan Wong's; a drive in the presidential motorcade to the North Shore of O'ahu; and a pickup basketball game and a few rounds of golf for the president at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i and the Luana Hills and Mid-Pacific country clubs.

Obama chose not to revisit Lδna'i Lookout near Hanauma Bay, where he had scattered the ashes of his mother and grandmother on separate visits.

However, Obama's presidential motorcade did take a trip to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl yesterday.

The ashes of Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham — a sergeant in Gen. George Patton's 7th Army in Europe — are in Court 1, Wall B, beneath a bronze plaque that honors the tall, silver-haired man Obama called "Gramps."

The first family then enjoyed a private sunset tour of the Honolulu Zoo.

During their vacation, the Obamas again chose to stay at a beachfront vacation home in Kailua, which is up for sale for $8.9 million.

Realtor Joel Cavasso, who has the listing for the Kailuana Place property, disputed media reports that the president intends to buy the house.

"I'm the lister and I'm not aware that he's interested," Cavasso said.

While the president's and first family's outings were similar to other O'ahu vacations they enjoyed when he was president-elect, security was much tighter on this, his first trip home since becoming president.

Most of Kailua Bay was declared a security zone and two gunboats remained moored in the nearby Kawainui Canal as squads of Coast Guardsmen patrolled the waters around the vacation home in semi-rigid boats.

The first family and their friends visited Hanauma Bay on Tuesday when the marine preserve is normally closed to let the fragile ecosystem recover — and enjoyed a private visit to Sea Life Park on Saturday.


Reporters, photographers and the public were prohibited from watching the president and first family splash in the ocean at Hanauma Bay and at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Pyramid Rock — let alone capture a similar image of the now-famous photo of a shirtless Obama bodysurfing at Sandy Beach last year.

"The main reason is that this is the first African-American president of the United States, and you've seen some whacko responses from people calling him Hitler and bringing guns to rallies," said Dan Boylan, a political commentator and professor at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu.

"This is the greatest security risk outside of terrorism that the United States security has, keeping this guy safe."

A photo of Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, eating shave ice at Island Snow last year when he was president-elect hangs in the little shop along Kailua Road.

But there were no media photos taken of the girls' Dec. 26 visit because media were asked not to photograph the 8- and 11-year-old first daughters without their parents around.

"Michelle Obama said she wanted to be 'first mother,' and the value system both of them have is that they are going to be parents first and protect their young children," Boylan said. "I really think this is a president who is not as needy when it comes to the presence of both the media and the crowd around him. He's serious about wanting his private time with his family."

At Island Snow on Saturday, photographers were allowed to snap photos of Obama, his daughters and an entourage of friends as the president ordered 19 shave ices.

But the media was barred from watching the president and first lady greet military members and their families before and after their usual early-morning workouts at the nearby Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kδne'ohe Bay.


Obama did make national news on his vacation when he twice spoke about the failed terrorist attack aboard a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.

And reporters who found little other national news covering the president's vacation were put to use when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh suffered chest pains last week and was hospitalized at The Queen's Medical Center.

Otherwise, O'ahu has enjoyed favorable media coverage during Obama's vacation as much of the Mainland continues to suffer through a chilly winter.

"It's created a great buzz in the media," said Darlene Morikawa, spokeswoman for the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau. "We're proud the president returned home and chose Hawai'i to relax and rejuvenate before starting 2010."

En route to Honolulu aboard Air Force One on Christmas Eve, Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters that the Obamas had no scheduled public events and few private events.

"I think the president is going to wake up and see where the day takes him," Burton said. He called Obama's vacation "an opportunity for the president to recharge his batteries, knowing that as president you never really get to power off all the way."

There was one new family outing — a private screening of the digital 3-D version of the movie "Avatar" on Thursday at Windward Mall for the first family and friends who traveled with them.

The screening also was off limits to reporters and photographers — as was a family trip to the North Shore on Wednesday to visit Obama's high school friend, Bobby Titcomb, in Mokul[0xeb]'ia.


Boylan understands the need for Obama to enjoy a security-conscious vacation when he comes home.

But Boylan also believes that Hawai'i residents — who supported Obama with 74 percent of their presidential vote — want to see more of the first family on what may become their annual Christmas vacations in the Islands.

"You wish he would show a bit more aloha for the state that gave him the biggest vote he got from any state," Boylan said. "We want to get close to him because we feel he's ours. He's not just the president. He's an exciting president who's young and has a young, attractive wife and two attractive kids — and we want to see him."