KENNEBUNKPORT (AP) – President Bush joined a family gathering Thursday on the rocky coast of Maine where his great-grandfather built an oceanfront estate more than 100 years ago.

Bush began his long Maine weekend by meeting privately at a local elementary school with the families of five soldiers killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Then he settled in at the family compound at Walker’s Point.

His father, former President George H.W. Bush, has summered at Walker’s Point since boyhood, skipping it only while serving as a World War II Navy aviator. He and his wife, Barbara, are well-liked in the wealthy enclave of Kennebunkport, whose citizens have helpfully forgotten the disruptive traffic jams that accompanied his visits when Bush was president.

The current president doesn’t love the family’s coastal getaway quite as much as his parents, preferring his dusty Texas ranch. It has been two years since President Bush has been in Kennebunkport.

It was a family wedding that drew Bush here in August 2004, and is so again.

This time, the nuptials are for Walker Stapleton, the son of the former president’s cousin, Dorothy Walker Stapleton, and Craig Roberts Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador to France. Stapleton is marrying Jenna Bertocchi on Saturday before about 300 guests at a seaside stone church just a minute’s drive from Walker’s Point.

Aside from the wedding, there was nothing on the public schedule other than time with his family – which often features speed-golf, fishing and plenty of verbal jousting. The president returns to Washington on Sunday. Anti-war protesters said they would stage a weekend protest as close to Walker’s Point as police would allow.

During George H.W. Bush’s presidency in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the compound was visited by French President Francois Mitterand, British Prime Minister John Major, Jordan’s King Hussein and other world leaders. The former president also notably retired to Walker’s Point three days after ordering American forces deployed to reverse Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

The area also was the place where, in 1976, after a Labor Day weekend visit to a bar, George W. Bush was arrested, later pleading guilty to driving while under the influence of alcohol. That incident remained under wraps throughout his early political career, only surfacing late in his first campaign for president in 2000.

AP-ES-08-24-06 1748EDT

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