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Former President's Death Brings Back Memories of Cove Visit


December 13, 2018

Richard Brantner Sr.

On Oct. 17, 1986, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush landed at the Altoona-Blair County Airport enroute to a speaking engagement in Altoona. Among the approximately 1,000 on hand to greet Bush were Central High School juniors Richard Brantner Jr., and Matt Gochnour. The vice president stopped and took a photo with the two friends. Inset: George and Barbara Bush and their springer spaniel, Millie.

With the death of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, the country lost the patriarch of one of the last true dynasties of public service to America.

Bush passed away on Friday, Nov. 30, at the age of 94. His passing brought tributes from around the world as people from all walks of life shared their thoughts – and for those fortunate enough to have crossed paths with him – memories of the man who you didn't have to agree with politically to like.

For Cove-area residents, President Bush's passing brough back memories of Oct. 17, 1986, when then-Vice President Bush and his wife, Barbara, landed at the Altoona-Blair County Airport, where they were greeted by approximately 1,000 people eager to get a glimpse of the nation's second in command.

According to accounts in the Oct. 23, 1986, edition of the Herald, Bush was being taken by limousine from the airport to Boyertown USA, in Lakemont, where he was to be the principal speaker at a fundraising reception for then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Spector.

The Herald reported that among the crowd greeting the vice president at the airport were 125 students from the Spring Cove schools, 100 from Claysburg-Kimmel and 50 from Northern Bedford.

As the motorcade made its way through the Cove, accompanied by a State Police helicopter, the limousine made an unscheduled stop at the Taylor Elementary School in Roaring Spring, where 150 students gathered on the front lawn to greet him with welcome signs.

The vice president stepped out of his car to thank the students for coming out to see him.

Preparations for the vice president's arrival began several weeks earlier as the Secret Service coordinated with local law enforcement and the Pennsylvania State Police to put a security plan in place and map out the route the vice president's motorcade would take.

Richard Brantner Sr., who was chief of the Martinsburg Police Department at the time, said the he received a visit from the Secret Service ahead of the event.

"One of the agents for the United States Secret Service came into my office and made inquiries," he said. "I'm guessing several weeks in advance."

Brantner said one of their concerns was if there was anyone who could pose a threat to the vice president.

"I recall one of the things that they inquired about was concerning any persons residing in the area who could pose a possible danger to the vice president," he said.

Brantner said the Martinsburg Police Department's main duty that day was to assist the Secret Service at the airport and posting an officer at the signal light in town to control traffic as the motorcade went through.

The crowd of greeters at the airport was able to get close to the vice president, with many getting to shake his hand and have pictures taken. Brantner said that back then, they didn't use metal detectors or check people for weapons.

"Keeping in mind that it was a different world back then, and prior to 9/11," he said.

Among those in the crowd that were able to get close enough to get a picture with the vice president were current Martinsburg Borough Manager Rich Branter Jr., and his friend Matt Gochnour.

Branter Jr. and Gochnour were juniors at Central High School and had gone to the airport to help greet the vice president.

According to the former police chief, who is the father of Rich Branter Jr., Gochnour had a camera and was taking pictures of the vice president as he came through the crowd shaking hands. The vice president took the camera from Gochnour and handed it to a Secret Service agent to take a picture of the three of them.

Branter said the Secret Service presented him with souvenirs from Air Force Two along with a letter from the Office of the Secret Service in Pittsburgh, thanking his department for their assistance.

Branter said he has fond memories of Bush's brief visit to the area and said working with the Secret Service was a great experience.

"The Secret Service was very cordial, friendly, professional and appreciative for the manpower to assist them at the airport," he said. "It was a pleasure and an honor to work with the United State Secret Service."


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