MIDLAND, Texas – Waving cardboard red, white and blue "W"s, thousands welcomed George W. Bush and his wife on Tuesday to their post-presidential home in Texas. "The presidency was a joyous experience, but as great as it was, nothing compares with Texas at sunset," Bush said to cheers from the crowd of about 25,000 as former first lady Laura Bush stood at his side. "Tonight I have the privilege of saying six words that I have been waiting to say for a while — it is good to be home."
In the hours leading up to his return, excerpts of some of Bush's speeches played on a large TV screen, including remarks he made to Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
One little boy waved a sign that read, "President Bush, thank you for keeping me safe" in multicolored lettering.
"It's a special day, but it's a sad day," said Dudley Winn, a cotton farmer who drove two hours from Lubbock to greet Bush on his first stop after leaving office. "He did the job we asked him to do. He kept our values safe."
As the crowd looked on, the jet carrying the Bushes flew over downtown, then landed at the airport in Midland shortly before 5 p.m.
Jan Rhodes, a school teacher in Midland, was on hand when Bush left Midland eight years ago for his inauguration as president. She was back Tuesday.
"We watched for eight years and we're proud of how he served us and how he represented Midland," she said.
While Bush was born in New Haven, Conn., he spent his childhood in Midland. He returned there as an adult in the 1970s and met the future first lady, who grew up there.
After the Midland rally, the Bushes were to fly to Waco and then continue on to their 1,600-acre ranch in nearby Crawford.