Aficionados of American history will have a new work of non-fiction to add to their collection Oct. 24, 2017, with the publication of “Inside Camp David: The Private World of the Presidential Retreat.” The book is authored by Coronado Resident Rear Admiral Michael Giorgione, USN (Ret.), who served as the commanding officer of Camp David from June 25, 1999 to Aug. 9, 2001.
His tour overlapped the end of the term of Bill Clinton and the beginning of the George W. Bush presidency. Giorgione was the 17th commanding officer of the 200-acre installation, located in the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland. Officially, Camp David is designated Naval Support Facility Thurmont and the command includes 200 sailors and Marines, or as Giorgione provided the Navy analogy, “Has about the same personnel as a destroyer.”
As an aside, Coronado resident Capt. Chuck Howe USN (Ret.) was the CO of Camp David from April 15, 1963 to August 13, 1965, and served John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during his tour. Howe is frequently quoted in “Inside Camp David” and Giorgione said of his across-the-street neighbor, “Chuck is the oldest living commander of Camp David. His tour was certainly memorable and his kids played with the Kennedy kids. Hank Howe (Chuck’s son) used to play with John-John Kennedy. To have the president’s kids as your playmates and sometime neighbors, is surreal.”
Writing a book was a 20-year dream of Giorgione’s and he described the process from concept to publication. “I started a full-time consulting practice and I read, write and teach a lot. I thought Camp David would be a good chapter in a book about leadership. So, I did some research and I met with a strategist and an agent in New York. They said, ‘You can write a book about leadership and be in the back of the bookstore, or you can write about your fascinating experiences at Camp David and be in the front of the book store.’ I started my homework with the White House Military Office (which oversees Camp David, Air Force One, Marine Corps One, White House communications and much more) a year and a half ago and I was absolutely authorized to write a book, although there are some things I can’t say. Then the reunion of the 16 former Camp Commanders and five former Command Master Chiefs and their families occurred in September 2016. I had already signed the deal by then with my agent. At the reunion I heard the conversations, the energy and the stories, and they emboldened me to write the book about Camp David.”
After a short book proposal was shopped around by his agent Steve Troha of Folio Literary Management in New York, Giorgione interviewed six publishers and received two offers. He said, “Steve and I talked and picked Little, Brown and Company. With Steve’s advice and my agreement, we decided to hire a writer. We interviewed four writers and chose Catherine Whitney, who has a history of writing these kinds of books. I physically met her Dec. 13, 2016 and we turned in the manuscript Feb. 22, 2017. Part of the Little, Brown offer was to publish during the prime book selling season over the holidays. I liked that Little, Brown had a publishing history and didn’t want to wait. I kept a journal from my time at Camp David and because I had met the former commanding officers at the reunion, we interviewed almost everyone. I knew I couldn’t write the book myself. Some of the chapters have my personal touch and she put the artistry into it. She knew to end the book with the letter my girls sent me. We went back and forth, as you do with a collaborator, and I give her great credit.”
The primary strengths of the book include the history imparted about Camp David, which was originally named Shangri-La by Franklin Roosevelt and re-named Camp David by Dwight Eisenhower, after his grandson. The book also relates the story of Giorgione and his family as they uprooted their lives in Coronado and moved into Cedar Cabin, the home of the commanding officer, on the grounds of Camp David.
The Giorgione children survived the experience quite well and their proud father provided an update on his two daughters, both of whom graduated from Coronado High School. “Briana graduated from Cal Berkeley, is 25, and lives in Santa Cruz, where she is a marine animal trainer at the Long Marine Mammal Lab, which is affiliated with UC Santa Cruz. She has been in the lab for three years and works with seals and sea lions. Ryanne has a Bachelor’s degree from Penn State in psychology and is now in graduate school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville studying mental health counseling. It’s two years of study and a one-year practicum.”
Michele Giorgione is also a primary character in “Inside Camp David,” as her husband described. “One of the toughest things about the position was balance, relationships and balance. She was a wife with two young girls, and we had to balance home life with the surreal opportunity of being camp commander, with Michele stuck in the middle. She was the wife of the most senior military person there, and the kids were crying at night because they didn’t have any friends. She is that buffer and the balance.”
Ultimately, “Inside Camp David” is a book about the 75-year history of the facility, filled with facts and factoids. A personal favorite relates to visiting dignitaries not being allowed to depart the retreat with Camp David jackets and bathrobes. Another involves the creation of a bike path for President Bush and the resulting input from his Secret Service detail.
Giorgione was the Camp David CO during the 2000 Middle East Peace Summit with President Bill Clinton, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Giorgione said, “It was the most fascinating time and it was stressful in a good way. We only had five days to plan for the visit. It was a fascinating thing to observe from the sidelines, including Clinton’s performance.”
Giorgione discussed the four themes that comprise the book. “First is the history of Camp David and the presidents who use it differently. Second, is Chapter Six, “The Lonely Sentry.” It’s important to talk about that, what it’s like to be in command and to be the president of the country. There is pressure, responsibility and respect of the office that people need to appreciate more. Third, are relationships and how important they are. The relationships with my family, my crew, the White House Military Office, and the presidents and their families. It’s very educational and it’s about the trying times where you get to know the balance and paradox of relationships. And fourth, in Chapter 12, we write about the true meaning of Camp David. The president needs a place to get away, where there are no press or cameras. To me, it was more personal for a president to invite someone to Camp David, than to invite them to White House or their personal home.”
Giorgione provided an overview of his command and recalled the initial days of the Bush 43 administration. “I had no tragedy during my time and nothing tragic happened in the world. It wasn’t the heavy tone of the 9/11 tragedy that occurred a month after I left. Some commanders have fascinating times and some are boring. I was fortunate to see two presidents, and two administrations. Prime Minister Tony Blair from England and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan were President Bush’s first two guests to Camp David. The Blair visit was fascinating and happened about one month into the presidency. Blair was left wing and close to the Clintons. Bush didn’t take them to the White House, but to Camp David. It was like being in your living room, just two couples getting to know each other as parents and adults. Blair came three times in total to Camp David. Similarly, our No. 1 ally in the Pacific, Koizumi from Japan, came to Camp David. They met man-to-man and spent the day together talking about baseball and politics.”
Giorgione added, “The Bush family were very genuine people. Part of our marketing strategy for the book was for me to send personal letters to Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama. All three have the same literary agent. Two weeks later I received a large, stiff envelope from the George W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library, saying he loved the book and that some of his best times are included. He said to say ‘hello’ to Michele, Briana and Ryanne. That gave me a lot of comfort and it meant a lot to me that President Bush said that about the book. They are just that way.”
Giorgione isn’t one to let grass grow under his feet, as the Naval Academy grad (USNA ’81) currently is president and founder of LeadingLeaders, which is his consulting business. In addition, Giorgione serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Seabee Memorial Scholarship Association. He said of the non-profit organization, “We raise money for the children and grandchildren of Seabees, to go to college or vocational schools. Basically, it’s about our future, raising money for kids to go to college. I’ve been doing it for almost two years. We’re a philanthropy and I’m leading and managing that.”
The Coronado Library and Bay Books will partner on Tuesday, Oct. 24 for the author reception and book launch of “Inside Camp David: The Private World of the Presidential Retreat” where Giorgione will talk about his new book. Bay Books will have a pop-up shop for the book sale.