Johnny’s family stood together on the runway of Andrews Air Force Base, the wind whipping by, as the Marine Two helicopter approached. It descended, and Vice President Dick Cheney stepped off with his entourage. As usual, he was ten minutes early; you could have set a watch by him.
Today was Johnny’s final flight as pilot of Air Force Two, and as a thank you, he’d been allowed to bring his wife and four kids to meet the Vice President.
A few days before, they’d also gotten a chance to meet Laura Bush, and to Johnny’s horror, his son Roger had tried to hold up bunny ears behind the First Lady’s head. Thankfully, she had just laughed and said, “He’s too cute.” Needless to say, Roger’s mortified parents had reminded him many times not to do that to Cheney.
As the Vice President approached, he peered forward over the top of his lowered glasses in an intimidating glare. But as soon as he reached them, the glare melted into a warm smile that so contrasted with his public image.
Johnny later contrasted him with his predecessor: “If you only had the public perception on TV to go by, you would think Al Gore was just a Tennessean, big ‘Aw shucks,’ kind of guy that would come and say ‘hey,” and Cheney was this monster, but it was not that way. Cheney was a very warm, nice guy, and his staff loved him… I met Cheney a number of times.” He’d gotten to meet several members of his family including his daughter, Liz Cheney, who had left the same impression.
Cheney thanked Johnny for his service and asked where he was going now that he was retiring. “Going back to Tennessee,” Johnny answered, “make good Republicans out of my kids.”
“There you go,” Cheney said, smiling. “That’s the place to take them.”
They talked for a few minutes before he moved on to Johnny’s wife and kids, shaking their hands, talking to each one in turn. Their youngest, Roger, was bad about not looking people in the eye, and they’d had to prep him. When it was his turn, Roger looked him right in the eye and resisted the urge to make bunny ears.
As soon as they were finished talking, Johnny said goodbye to his family and hurried up the steps and into the cockpit of the meticulously shined Boeing 757 for his final flight as pilot of Air Force Two—the conclusion of four years in a front seat to history