President Salutes Marines, Vows 'Destination Baghdad, Nothing Less'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2003 "There's no finer sight than to see 12,000 United States Marines and corpsmen -- unless you happen to be a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard," President Bush said this morning in North Carolina.
Thousands of Marines cheered and applauded their commander in chief during his address at Camp Lejeune. Touted as the largest Marine base in the world, Lejeune is home base for about 47,000 Marines.
When freedom needs defending, the president said, America turns to the military, and the men and women in uniform count on their families.
"This is a time of hardship for many military families," he said. "Some of you have been separated from your loved ones for quite a while because of long deployments. All of America is grateful for your sacrifice."
For more than 60 years, Marines from Camp Lejeune have helped fight America's battles, the president said. Now, the nation is involved in a "fierce struggle to protect the world from a grave danger and to bring freedom to an oppressed people."
"As the forces of our coalition advance," he said, "we learn more about the atrocities of the Iraqi regime and the deep fear that Saddam Hussein has instilled in the Iraqi people. Yet no scheme of this enemy, no crime of a dying regime will divert us from our mission. We will not stop until Iraq is free."
Bush touted the progress U.S. Marines have made in Iraq since coalition operations began March 19. On the first day of the campaign, Marine units secured 600 Iraqi oil wells to prevent environmental disaster. U.S. Marines and Royal Marine allies took the Al Faw peninsula, clearing a path for humanitarian aid. At Nasiriyah, Marines continue to push back the enemy.
Marines also took part in the daring rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch. "Thanks to their skill and courage, a brave young soldier is now free," Bush said.
"These missions are difficult and they are dangerous," he added, "but no one becomes a Marine because it's easy." The American people take pride in the Marines' victories and share in their losses, according to the president.
"There is a tradition in the Corps that no one who falls will be left behind on the battlefield," he said. "Our country has a tradition as well: No one who falls will be forgotten by this grateful nation. We honor their service to America, and we pray their families will receive God's comfort and God's grace.
As the war continues and coalition forces advance, Bush continued, "Marines are in the thick of the battle. And what we have begun, we will finish."
The United States is determined in its mission to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime, he stressed, and to remove weapons of mass destruction from the hands of mass murderers.
"Free nations will not sit and wait, leaving enemies free to plot another September the 11th, this time perhaps with chemical or biological or nuclear terror," he said. "And by defending our own security, we are freeing the people of Iraq from one of the cruelest regimes on earth."
Turning to the battle for Baghdad now under way, Bush said, coalition forces are clearing Iraq's southern cities and towns of Saddam's death squads. U.S. Special Forces and Army paratroopers, working with Kurdish militia, have opened a northern front. Army and Marine divisions are engaging the enemy and advancing to the outskirts of Baghdad. Coalition aircraft and cruise missiles are removing hundreds of military targets.
"A vice is closing and the days of a brutal regime are coming to an end," he said.
Yet Saddam's thugs, Bush noted, continue to exhibit brutality and cowardice. They shield themselves with women and children. They've killed Iraqi citizens who welcome coalition troops and forced other Iraqis into battle by threatening to torture or kill their families. They've executed prisoners of war and waged attacks under the white flag of truce. They've concealed combat forces in civilian neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and mosques.
The Iraqi regime "is terrorizing its own citizens, (and) doing everything possible to maximize Iraqi civilian casualties and then to exploit the deaths they've caused for propaganda," Bush stressed. "These are war criminals, and they will be treated like war criminals."
In stark contrast, he said, coalition forces are treating innocent civilians with kindness and showing proper respect to soldiers who surrender.
"Many Americans have seen the picture of Marine Lance Corporal Marco Ware carrying a wounded Iraqi soldier on his shoulders to safety for medical treatment," Bush said. "That's a picture of the strength and goodness of the U.S. Marines. People of the United States are proud of the honorable conduct of our military, and I'm proud to lead such brave and decent Americans."
Coalition forces are also bringing food and water and medicine to the Iraqi people. They've constructed a pipeline to bring clean water to Umm Qasr and are delivering emergency rations to the hungry. Ships carrying enough American grain to feed millions are bound for Iraq.
"We're bringing aid, and we're bringing something more," Bush said. "We're bringing hope."
One Iraqi village told an American soldier, "I want my freedom. I don't want food or water. I just want my freedom," Bush said. "America hears that man. We hear all Iraqis who yearn for liberty, and the people of Iraq have my pledge: our fighting forces will press on until your entire country is free."
Looking out across the audience of Marines, the president concluded: "The course is set; we're on the advance. Our destination is Baghdad, and we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory."