Palin picnic draws big crowd

WASILLA, AK Palin, who is resigning and leaves office on Sunday, used the occasion to sign autographs and hand out hot dogs.

The governor -- dressed casually in blue jeans and a red sweat shirt that read "Once a patriot, always a patriot" -- was mobbed by well-wishers who offered up babies, books, calendars, skateboards and even their hands for autographs. Several longtime picnic-goers said this year's picnic crowd dwarfed last year's.

Fred Kostrick, an 84-year-old World War II veteran from Michigan who attended the event, said he appreciated Palin's support of the military.

"I think she's one hell of a lady," he said. "She's tough, she stands her ground and she's taken a lot of guff -- more than I could."

Wes Hammerick of Big Lake, Alaska, relayed his admiration for the governor and his dreams for the future in song.

"In 2012, I'll give you a hint: Alaska's pit bull will be our president," he sang in a tune titled "North to the Future."

At the end of the song, Hammerick shouted: "Sarah Palin for president!"

A teenage boy replied as loudly, "Obama!"

During the picnic, Palin said she was glad to be in front of her hometown as she kicked off a series of three picnics before she leaves office. Another will be held in Anchorage on Saturday and the third is scheduled for Sunday in Fairbanks, when Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell takes over as governor.

Palin also chastised the media for sometimes ignoring those who defend freedom, telling the crowd that she had attended a memorial service for three soldiers from Alaska a day earlier. Her son, Track, is currently serving in Iraq.

"Never apologize for being Americans," she told the crowd in Wasilla, a city of about 7,000 where Palin once served as mayor.

A man yelled out, "we want you to be our commander in chief!"

Palin has not said what she will do after she leaves office but many have speculated that she will run for president in 2012.

The governor left the event without taking questions from the media, driving off in a blue SUV with her daughter Piper.

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