WASHINGTON – Speaking at the "A Celebration of Freedom" concert at the Ellipse, President Bush looked ahead Wednesday to his second inauguration, pledging to try to unify a country divided by partisan differences. "I am eager and ready for the work ahead," Bush declared.
Offering a preview of his inaugural address, Bush said, "I will speak about freedom. This is the cause that unites our country and gives hope to the world and will lead us to a future of peace. We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause."
A total of 14 military aircraft took part in an aerial flyover during the "A Celebration of Freedom" event, which was kicked off by thunderous fireworks. The aircraft included a B-2 bomber, four F-15 Strike Eagles and four F-16 Falcons from the Air Force. The Marine Corps also sent a formation of three Harrier jump-jets and the Navy had a pair of F-18 Hornets in the air.
"No night is too cold to celebrate freedom," the president told the audience, who endured Washington's snow-covered streets and a temperature in the low 20s to take part in festivities.
"Inauguration is a time of unity for our country," the president said. "With the campaign behind us, Americans lift up our sights to the years ahead and to the great goals we will achieve for our country. I am eager and ready for the work ahead."
The Army's parachute team, the Golden Knights (search), jumped into the opening ceremony at 5 p.m. The world-class skydivers also jumped for the inauguration of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, and most recently conducted a tandem jump with the former president in June 2004, to celebrate his 80th and the Army's 229th birthdays.
The event also featured musical artists' videos and other forms of entertainment and was followed by a musical finale and a fireworks display.
The festivities the first time around were "such a whirlwind we didn't really absorb it," first lady Laura Bush said of the 2001 inauguration on CBS' "Early Show" Wednesday. This time, she said, she plans to "make notes every night so I can remember things that happened that day, feelings that I had."
In between morning and afternoon events, the president attended a private reception hosted by the chairwoman of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, Jeanne Johnson Phillips.
In the evening, the first couple and Vice President Dick Cheney and wife Lynne Cheney attended three candlelight dinners with donors who gave $100,000 to $250,000 to the inaugural committee. All three were closed to journalists.
The inaugural committee raised money from corporations and individuals to finance galas and other festivities during inauguration week. Through Friday, the committee had collected $25.5 million toward a goal of $40 million.
The biggest donors, those who gave $250,000, also got four seats to Bush's swearing-in ceremony; 10 VIP seats at the inaugural parade; and two tickets to an underwriters' luncheon featuring Bush and Cheney.
Unlike Bush's presidential campaign, the inaugural committee could accept unlimited contributions from any source except foreigners, although donations were voluntarily capped at $250,000. Bush's campaign could only accept limited donations from individuals and political action committees; corporate, union, unlimited and foreign donations were banned.
After the three meals, Bush partied at the much-anticipated Black Tie and Boots Ball (search), sponsored by the Washington chapter of the Texas State Society at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Earlier Wednesday, Bush returned to the roots of freedom in the United States, taking in the magnanimity of the National Archives (search) during an inaugural week tour with the first lady.
Guided by senior archivist John Carlin, the Bushes studied original copies of the Declaration of Independence, with its faded illegible signatures; the Constitution; the Bill of Rights and the original handwritten text of George Washington's first inaugural address as well as the Masonic bible Washington used on that occasion.
Bush said he "absolutely" was feeling the history of the moment as he and his wife toured the documents during a visit suggested by David McCullough (search), the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman
Top Bush adviser Karl Rove (search) said the president hopes the visit will become a tradition. In the meantime, he said the president is "focused, upbeat, optimistic" about having four more years in the Oval Office.
"Anybody's who concerned with creating a legacy will fall short if he's not focused ... on the right policy and service to the country," Rove told The Associated Press. "And let history take care of itself."
From the National Archives, he made a stop at the "Chairman's Luncheon," the latest thank-you appearance, behind closed doors, with the donors who ponied up millions to finance inaugural festivities. Snow blanketed the streets of Washington as his motorcade made its way through the streets.