Alice Ginter could barely keep the tears from falling.
"I don't usually get this emotional," Ginter said. "I can't help myself. This is wonderful."
She was among nearly 3,000 people who began arriving as early as 11 a.m. yesterday at an arena on the Fort George G. Meade Army base in Anne Arundel County in the hope of getting a look at Barbara Bush, who was scheduled to arrive two hours later.
Ginter got more than a look. She got a hug from the first lady.
"She's wonderful," Ginter said as the tears began welling up in her eyes. "Yes, it was worth the wait. My son is going to be so proud."
Holding up a banner which said how proud she was of her son, William, of the 101st Airborne Division, Ginter caught Mrs. Bush's eye as the first lady walked along the perimeter of the crowd shaking hands and hugging children and adults.
Dressed in a red and black suit and adorned in her trademark pearls, Mrs. Bush addressed the gathering of civilian and army personnel and family members of soldiers in the Middle East.
Carrying a small U.S. flag, the first lady told the families of military personnel that they aided the success of Desert Storm just by continuing with their daily lives. And soldiers left on the base helped by taking on the extra duties left by those in the Middle East, she added.
"You should be proud of your contributions," Mrs. Bush said. "I know your president is."
Mrs. Bush told the families of soldiers she knew what they were going through. During World War II, she recalled, she was more concerned with her fiance stationed in the Pacific than with her grades at Smith College. "At least that's the excuse I gave my mother," she said.
The first lady urged family members to continue to seek the aid of the base's family-support services.
About 30 people had the chance to meet with Mrs. Bush before she addressed the larger crowd at Gaffney Sports Arena.
Christina Newsome's 6-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, told the first lady how much she missed her daddy, and recited her alphabet for the guest.
While Mrs. Bush talked with the children in one room of the arena, the waiting crowd was entertained in a scene reminiscent of a football pep rally with patriotic songs from the First U.S. Army Band and cheers from the Meade High School cheerleaders.
The first lady spent yesterday morning in East Baltimore at the opening of the International Book Bank, a private, non-profit group that sends books to Third World nations. She was joined by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting of the book bank on Folcroft Street.