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President to Vets: Nation Served, People Defended Are Grateful

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 11, 2003 – President Bush expressed the nation's gratitude to its veterans in remarks at Arlington National Cemetery here today, where he also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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President George W. Bush stands with National Commander of the Army and Navy Union David Berger, left, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi during the Veterans Day 2003 ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. White House photo by Paul Morse
  

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On a day that saw him sign legislation to increase some military benefits, double the benefits paid to surviving family members of service members who die on active duty, and establish six new national cemeteries, Bush said Veterans Day is a day for the country to remember the debt the nation owes to all who have worn the uniform of the United States.

"Our veterans have borne the costs of America's wars and have stood watch over America's peace," the president said. "And today, every veteran can be certain the nation you served and the people you defended are grateful."

He said the nation knows Arlington National Cemetery as the final resting place of those lost to the violence of war. "Yet most of the markers here stand over the graves of Americans who lived beyond their years of military service," the president noted.

"On the hills of Arlington and in the daily lives of our country, veterans have a special place," he said. "We honor them all for their service in uniform, and we honor American veterans for the full lives of … service they continue to lead."

The president said that of the 25 million veterans still living today, more than 11 million are from the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. He added that more than 4 million living Americans served in World War II, and that it is still possible to thank in person almost 200 Americans who were in uniform "when the guns of World War I went silent 85 years (ago) today." That special group who served when Woodrow Wilson was the commander in chief is now more than 100 years old, he said, "and they can know that America is still proud of them."

The president said the United States always has gone to war reluctantly, but always for a noble cause. "In the harshest hours of conflict, they served just and honorable purposes," he said. "They've humbled tyrants and defended the innocent and liberated the oppressed. And across the earth, you will find entire nations that once lived in fear, where men and women still tell of the day when Americans came and set them free."

America's mission in the world continues, Bush said, and veterans will continue to be asked to serve in the cause of freedom.

Recalling the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war against terrorism, Bush said the men and women of the armed forces have engaged the terrorist enemy on many fronts, and that young Americans have died liberating some 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They've died in securing freedom in those countries. The loss is terrible; it is borne especially by the families left behind. But in their hurt and in their loneliness, I want these families to know your loved ones served in a good and just cause," the president said. "They died in distant lands to fight terror, to advance freedom and to protect America. They did not live to be called veterans, but this nation will never forget their lives of service and all they did for us."

Bush related the recent words of a soldier serving in Iraq. "We in the military signed up and pledged to protect this great country of ours from enemies foreign and domestic," the soldier said. "We are fighting so that the next generation might never have to experience anything like Sept. 11, 2001."

The president said the nation's prayers are with its sons and daughters in uniform. "They serve a great cause, and they follow a great tradition handed down to them by America's veterans," Bush said. "Our veterans from every era are the finest of citizens. We owe them the life we know today. They command the respect of the American people, and they have our lasting gratitude."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresident George W. Bush bows his head for a moment of silence after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA bugler plays the lonely notes of "Taps" as visitors, dignitaries, and military members observe Veterans Day services at Arlington National Cemetery. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the national ceremony. Photo by 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn Old Guard soldier scans the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Soldiers face the tomb for 21 seconds as a gesture of respect. Photo by 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAttendees watch the 50th Annual Veterans Day national ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by 1st Lt. Steve Alvarez, USA  
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