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Bush Asks Americans to Remember Troops During Thanksgiving

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2007 – President Bush spoke of the history of Thanksgiving during his weekly radio address yesterday, and called for Americans to remember – and be thankful for – thousands of American servicemembers literally on the front lines of freedom.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time of family and friends and when Americans give thanks for their freedoms, Bush said.

“Throughout our history, Americans have always taken time to give thanks for all those whose sacrifices protect and strengthen our nation,” he said. “We continue that tradition today – and we give thanks for a new generation of patriots who are defending our liberty around the world.”

The Thanksgiving tradition has assumed more importance during a time of war, the president said. The Continental Congress proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving every year during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington issued a proclamation calling for a day of “publick prayer and thanksgiving” in 1789.

“We remember Abraham Lincoln, who revived the Thanksgiving tradition in the midst of a terrible civil war,” Bush said. Lincoln urged in his 1863 proclamation that Americans remember the fallen, as well as “widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

The Lincoln proclamation came too late in 1863 to make it a special holiday for Union soldiers, sailors and Marines. But in 1864, Americans rallied to the idea of providing a special feast for those battling against slavery.

The Union League Club of New York City called on Americans to donate money or food to be delivered to Union servicemembers as “tangible evidence that those for whom he is periling his life, remember him.”

In three weeks, the club collected over $57,000 toward the purchase of 146,586 pounds of poultry. It also received donations of an additional 225,000 pounds of poultry, along with an enormous quantity of other meat, cakes, gingerbread, pickles, apples, vegetables, cheese and mince pies.

The soldiers often didn’t have the appliances to cook the donated food items. According to Army Capt. George F. Noyes, the men of the Army of the Shenandoah broiled or stewed their turkeys. “But everyone seemed fully satisfied, and appreciated the significance of this sympathetic thank-offering from the loyal North,” Noyes wrote. “One soldier said to me, ‘It isn’t the turkey, but the idea that we care for,’ and he thus struck the keynote of the whole festival.”

American fighting forces went on to observe Thanksgiving on the Marne in France during World War I, at the Anzio beachhead in Italy during World War II, north of Pyongyang during the Lkorean War and in the Ia Drang Valley during Vietnam.

Today that tradition continues with Americans who serve in places like Jallalabad, Afghanistan, in and around Baghdad, aboard ships in the Persian Gulf and still in Germany, Korea and Japan.

“We are grateful to all our men and women in uniform who are spending this holiday weekend far from their families,” Bush said. “We keep them in our thoughts and prayers. And we especially remember those who have given their lives in our nation's defense.

The president spoke of the sacrifice of Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, who died defending his fellow Navy SEALs in June 2005. “Michael was conducting surveillance on a mountain ridge in Afghanistan, when his four-man SEAL team was surrounded by a much larger enemy force,” Bush said. “Their only escape was down the side of the mountain. The SEALs launched a valiant counterattack while cascading from cliff to cliff. But as the enemy closed in, Michael recognized that the survival of his men depended on calling back to base for reinforcements.

“With complete disregard for his own life, Michael Murphy moved into a clearing where he could get a signal. As he made the call, Michael fell under heavy fire. Though severely wounded, he said ‘thank you’ before signing off, and returned to the fight.”

Murphy’s actions cost him his life and earned him the Medal of Honor.

“This weekend, we give thanks for the blessings of young Americans like Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who risk their own lives to keep us safe,” Bush said.

The president called on Americans to remember the heroes among us – servicemembers, police, firefighters, volunteers and others who serve a cause larger than themselves.

“While we were enjoying our Thanksgiving turkeys, tens of thousands of these men and women were on the job – keeping their fellow citizens safe and bringing hope and compassion to our brothers and sisters in need,” he said. “And their sacrifice reminds us that the true strength of our nation is the goodness and decency of our people.”

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