After days of hush around the military hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19, President Donald Trump emerged to the clatter of helicopter rotor blades and the cries of supporters chanting, “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
Some had waited all day to see him and were hoping for another drive-by in his armoured limo, as he had done the day before.
Nevertheless, they were happy when he boarded Marine One and flew off over the crowd gathered in front of Walter Reed military hospital in Bethesda, just outside Washington, DC.
“I’m not disappointed based on the security,” said Jasmine Rochon, who had driven 120 miles on Monday from Philadelphia. “But the fact that he flew in and made sure that he turned and waved at us, that’s good enough for me,” she said.
For Andrew Roff, clutching a huge “Trump 2020” flag in his hands, the departure from hospital in the presidential chopper was emblematic.
“That lift off seemed very symbolic, cathartic, it was like victory. He beat Covid, he’s back to work, he is okay,” said the 54-year-old from nearby Frederick, Maryland, who served in the army for 23 years and — like many Trump fans here — was not wearing a mask.
Wearing their red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, the fans of the real estate tycoon and reality TV star waited all day at the main entrance to the hospital, waving flags and singing the songs usually blared out at Trump rallies — “Proud to Be an American,” “Born in the USA,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Beat It” and “Rocketman.”
The crowd was later moved on by police, regrouping on the other side of the wide road running past the hospital grounds, close to the group of journalists whom some of the Trump fans had spent the day hurling insults at.
At the outset, there were around 20 people in the gathering, which swelled to around 100 in the middle of the afternoon after Trump announced on Twitter that he would be leaving the hospital in the evening.
“I’m very happy, that is wonderful news,” said a maskless Karen Sloan, 50, a resident of Washington holding a sign that read “Prayers for the president, 4 more years.”
“That means that he was able to overcome that flu,” she said. “He’s just made of iron. The first thing he should do at the White House is to give Melania a big kiss and get back to work.”
A little further along, Sally Ashcroft, 72, wanted the president to “go back to the campaign trail,” which he had to abandon due to his illness, with just a month to go before the November 3 election.
Philadelphia resident Rochon said the president “should prove now to the world that this Covid-19 virus is not that lethal,” even though the president was the beneficiary of an experimental treatment not yet available to other Americans.
“We should go back to normal, we need to reopen the whole world,” she said. “A lot of people are suffering, losing their job and their income” from the pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States.