Outside in Groton and New London, crowds awaited the president for different reasons
President Barack Obama's visit Wednesday for the Coast Guard Academy commencement began with a small crowd anticipating his arrival at the Groton-New London Airport — and an even smaller crowd of protesters setting up chairs outside the Academy grounds.
Air Force One landed at 10:23 a.m. as about 50 viewers excitedly waited behind gates adorned with flags billowing in the wind, for the commander in chief's arrival.
The plane, the USAF version of the Boeing 757, designation C32, is not the larger jet Americans familiarly call Air Force One, but whatever plane the president is traveling on is Air Force One at the time.
With a smile and a wave, Obama descended the red steps of the plane, emblazoned with an American flag and "United States of America," onto the runway.
He walked over and briefly greeted visitors and shook hands before swiftly getting into the motorcade for the 2015 Academy commencement in New London.
Venessa Hunter of West Haven was among the visitors at the airport, along with her daughter, son-in-law and two young grandsons.
Hunter said the President was friendly and pleasant, shaking everyone's hand.
He stopped to ask her 7-year-old grandson what grade he was in and joked to her 8-month-old grandson in a stroller, "I don't think they're feeding you enough," she recalled with a chuckle.
"It was awesome," she said, elated after the president had left for the commencement.
Following commencement, members of the St. Francis House community, Buddhist monks from a pagoda in Massachusetts and other New England activists wove along the waterfront and downtown streets in New London.
Roughly 30 walked along Broad and State Streets, stopping at the police station, Parade Plaza, the train station and New London Superior Court before ending up back at St. Francis House. Their goal was to spread a message of peace. They spoke out against the use of drones in warfare, militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, detention of immigrants and police brutality.
“We’re hoping that our president will, during his remaining time in office, push forward the agenda for which we elected him,” said Trish Gallagher, of Boston. She said the agenda she spoke of was peace and justice.
“Let’s keep it simple — you know, all that good stuff,” she said.
The peace protest dwarfed a conservative protest early Wednesday morning, when five protesters had stationed themselves across the street from the entrance to the Academy.
Members of the group arrived as early as 5 a.m. with signs bearing messages such as "Remember Benghazi!" "Stop ISIS!" and "Obama Bin Lyin!"
"I just think that this country can do better," said protester John Fuller of Old Saybrook.
The protesters had been setting up but had not yet brought their signs out when Joseph Samela Jr., of Hamden, arrived sometime before 6 a.m. The "Obama Bin Lyin" sign was put near his lawn chair.
"I was here and they planted the signs around me," he said at around 10:15 a.m., as the picketers prepared to leave, packing up their signs and a tent for radio station 94.9. Editor's note: Fuller is the owner of the radio station. He was not identified as such in the original version of this article.
"If I had my choice, I would remove that one," Samela said, indicating the sign by his chair. He said he was neutral — just there to see the commander in chief.
"If you were the president, I'd wanna come and see you," said Samela.
He said that earlier that morning men he presumed to be with the FBI had asked if it was his sign. He explained that he was merely a victim of geographic location.
Some in the group of protesters outside the academy came from local towns, including New London and Waterford. They said the president needs to better secure the nation's borders, do more to stop terrorism and help the poor get off welfare.
Members of the group said they also came to protest when Obama came to speak at the academy graduation four years ago. Fuller attributed this year's low turnout to the fact that Obama won't be running again for president.
Twitter: @Kimberly Drelich
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