George W. Bush marked the Fourth of July with an address to a massive crowd in Woodward, Okla., that appeared thrilled to receive the former president for its holiday celebration.
The audience at the Rodeo Arena was the largest Bush has addressed since he left office. Woodward's entire population is 12,000. By Mayor Bill Fanning's count, more than half that number showed up to hear the speech, which was part of festivities marking the $25 million renovation of a local park.
In his address to the crowd, Bush looked back as far as the signers of the Declaration of Independence and as recently as the U.S. soldiers fighting wars abroad as examples of the patriotism and bravery that define Americans.
The president said victims of Hurricane Katrina also displayed great courage. He then described a blind man who lost his home in the 2005 hurricane but went on to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Southern Mississippi.
"Patriotism comes in all different kinds of forms," said the president, who noted a 60-year-old man from Nevada who got a waiver to enroll in the military after his son was killed in Iraq. The man is now serving as a Navy medic.
And he described the men who set this nation free when they signed the Declaration of Independence.
"They did the right thing even when it was hard. They did the brave thing even when risky. They did the noble thing even when many others would not," the president said.
Woodward is friendly territory for Bush, who visited the town two decades ago while campaigning for his father's presidential bid. In 2004, Bush won 80.9 percent of the vote in Woodward County as he defeated Democratic challenger John Kerry.
A banner welcoming Bush hanged from a restaurant on a highway entering Woodward. Not far down the road, marquees for a local Atwoods store and a steak restaurant also bore welcoming messages.
Bush's principles ring true in Oklahoma, said Kris Day, who owns The Cowboy's Tack Shop with her husband, Neal.
"We're conservative," she said. "We don't spend money we don't have."
Bush detailed what it's like to watch the national fireworks display from the Truman Balcony of the White House. He said if he couldn't be there, being at a rodeo ground in Oklahama was pretty good.
Described by The Associated Press as a "middle-of-nowhere oil field town," Bush said it's no wonder he feels comfortable there, having been born in Midland, Texas.
Having recently returned to Dallas, which he now calls home, Bush said he told his wife that he was "free at last."
"She says, 'Yeah, you are free to take out the garbage and free to mow the lawn.,'" Bush joked. "I said 'wait a minute, you're talking to the former president.' And she said, 'Well, consider that your new domestic policy agenda.'"
Bush also got in a joke at his mother's expense, telling how former first lady Barbara Bush recently had a heart operation in which she got a pig valve. Bush said that's why she's eating a lot of corn these days.
Seats for the speech ranged from $25 up to $500 for the "Oval Office Ticket" in the first rows, close to Bush, with VIP parking and complimentary beverages.
Event promoter Landon Laubhan declined to say how much Bush was getting paid to speak.
FOX News' Caroline Shively and The Associated Press contributed to this report.