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An unexpected moment from two presidents on Inauguration Day

Tuesday - 1/15/2013, 12:07pm  ET

ObamaBushHug.jpg
Former first lady Laura Bush waves as President Barack Obama embraces former President George W. Bush as the Bushes prepare to board a Marine helicopter to depart the U.S. Capitol following inaugural ceremonies on Jan. 20, 2009. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
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Mark Segraves, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - From the ceremonies to the celebrations, the presidential inauguration is a tradition that is highly scripted and precisely calculated.

However, four years ago during President Barack Obama's first inauguration, something happened off-script. A newly sworn-in Obama hugged former President George W. Bush as Bush boarded a Marine helicopter to leave the U.S. Capitol and his presidency.

Wolf Blitzer described what happened that day on CNN.

"President of the United States Barack Obama - he's escorting the former president to that Marine Corps helicopter," Blitzer announced.

Long-time presidential advisor and CNN contributor David Gergen remarked that something different happened as Obama and the first lady walked all the way to the helicopter with the former president and the former first lady.

"I can't remember a new president escorting the old president out to the helicopter and saying goodbye in this way," Gergen said on CNN.

Gergen was correct. That is not how the departure of the former president and first lady was supposed to happen. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer says it was his job to escort the two presidents out of the Capitol that day.

As Gainer walked the Obamas and Bushes through the Capitol Rotunda on the way to the east steps of the Capitol, Obama leaned over and asked him a question.

"He said, ‘Can I walk President Bush down to the helicopter?'" Gainer recalls.

Gainer explained to Obama, who had only been the president for a few minutes, that due to security reasons and because of protocol, it just wasn't possible.

Then, Gainer says Obama asked him again.

Gainer explained to Obama why he and the first lady needed to wait at the bottom of the steps and wave as the former president and his wife walked to the helicopter.

A moment later, Gainer says Obama asked a third time.

"I guess a light started to go on that obviously he wanted to walk him down to the helicopter," Gainer says. "It had not been done before, it wasn't rehearsed, but it was what he wanted to do."

Reluctant to tell the president of the United States "No" for a third time, Gainer acquiesced.

"I said, ‘Sir, you're the president of the United States. You can do whatever you want to do.'"

Gainer says he quickly alerted the Secret Service and the military to the last-minute change, and the two couples walked to the helicopter where the two presidents embraced.

"It was a beautiful event, and I think the people who saw it remember how special it was," Gainer says.

Gergen agreed, and noted the heartwarming moment on-air right as it occurred.

"It does show a personal respect coming out there to say goodbye. It was the right thing to do," Gergen said in 2009.

While Gainer remembers the embrace as one of his most special behind-the-scenes moments, he also remembers it for another reason.

"I was the first person in the world to tell the president ‘No,'" Gainer says with a smile. "And the first person to roll over under the slightest pressure and say ‘Yes.'"

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(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)