Bush Thanks Veterans for Safeguarding America’s Freedom
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2006 “Taps” rang out clearly as the United States paused to remember America’s veterans here today.
President Bush lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Staff Sgt. Madelyn Waychoff, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
U.S. veterans of many wars gathered to pay tribute to old comrades and thank a new generation of Americans keeping freedom’s light ablaze.
President Bush gave the principal address at the ceremony. “On this day, in this month, at this hour, our nation remembers the moment when the guns of World War I went silent -- and we recognize the service and the sacrifice of our nation's veterans,” the president said. “From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, our veterans have borne the costs of America's wars -- and they have stood watch over America's peace. The American people are grateful to the veterans and all who have fought for our freedom.”
It was a beautiful day here, with bright sunshine, blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. About 4,000 people attended the ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater. Hundreds more stood outside the facility. The Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans service organizations worked together to honor the more than 25 million living veterans.
And the troops in the field were never far from anyone’s thoughts. “On this Veterans Day, we honor a new generation of men and women who are defending our freedom,” Bush said. “Since Sept. 11, 2001, our armed forces have engaged the enemy, the terrorists, on many fronts. At this moment, more than 1.4 million Americans are on active duty, serving in the cause of freedom and peace around the world.
“They are our nation's finest citizens,” he continued. “They confront grave danger to defend the safety of the American people. They've brought down tyrants, they've liberated two nations, they have helped bring freedom to more than 50 million people. Through their sacrifice, they're making this nation safer and more secure -- and they are earning the proud title of veteran.”
Veterans took on many forms at the ceremony. Many World War II vets had to be helped to their seats, but they are still feisty. “Hey, Oldtimer. Still above ground, I see,” said one World War II vet to another.
The day was a pause for reflection for many of the former soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. “For many of us, serving in the military was a defining time of our lives,” said former Army Pfc. Gregory O’Toole, who came from Pennsylvania to be at the ceremony. O’Toole, who was an infantryman at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in 1944-45, said his generation fought “because we couldn’t let Hitler run the world. I see the same thing today: What would the world be like with Osama bin Laden in charge?”
Former Army 1st Lt. Glen Giello, who fought in Korea in 1951-52, said seeing combat and having friends die made him the person he is today. “We saw what life was like in other parts of the world, where the ideas of freedom and liberty are scoffed at,” he said. “We swore we wouldn’t let that happen here.”
Bush said veterans have handed America a precious gift. “As we raise our flag and as the bugle sounds taps, we remember that the men and women of America's armed forces serve a great cause,” he said. “They follow in a great tradition, handed down to them by America's veterans. And in public ceremonies and in private prayer, we give thanks for the freedom we enjoy because of their willingness to serve.”
Another veteran looked over the graves at Arlington and said that he had just been to a funeral of a friend’s son killed in Iraq. “I remember the boy always laughing,” said Clyde Johnson, a Marine vet who served in Desert Storm. “In my mind, he’ll always be that laughing kid, just like in that poem from World War I.”
The poem is “To the Fallen” by English poet Laurence Binyon. Written in 1914, this verse is part of many memorials to the dead of the Great War:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”