Bush Honors America's Veterans
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Nov. 11, 2002 Before a rain-soaked crowd here, President Bush pledged that the United States will continue the war on terrorism until those who struck America "are fully and finally defeated."
In a somber ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Bush placed a wreath and then addressed veterans and their families at the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater.
Bush told the crowd that American service members are serving around the world in a new kind of war. "In Afghanistan and beyond, they're on the trail of killers who brought death to the innocent and war to our country," he said.
The president also spoke about Saddam Hussein and his outlaw regime. "We will not permit a dictator who has used weapons of mass destruction to threaten America with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons," he said. "This great nation will not live at the mercy of any foreign plot or power. The dictator of Iraq will fully disarm, or the United States will lead a coalition and disarm him."
The Washington area was under a tornado watch before the ceremony, but that didn't stop thousands of people from coming to the cemetery. There was a large number of Vietnam veterans attending who had come out to mark the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial just across the Potomac River on the National Mall. Especially noticeable was good number of men and women wore desert camouflage "boonie" hats, signifying their service in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq a decade ago.
Whether it was Kuwait, Ia Drang, Pork Chop Hill, Normandy or Pearl Harbor, Bush noted, veterans deserve the gratitude of Americans. "The term 'veteran' conveys more than a rank held in the past," Bush said. "Military service forms priorities and commitments that last for a lifetime. Every person who has put on the uniform, whether in time of war or in time of peace, has also felt a new sense of responsibility."
Bush said veterans understand the price of freedom because they can put names and faces to it. Those who served the country in the military go back to their communities and work to make them function and to improve them. "In so many ways, veterans live out the meaning of patriotism and idealism and concern for others," he observed. "Those of us who are the children and grandchildren of veterans have seen those qualities up close -- each of us is better because of the influence of a veteran. And so is America."
Earlier in the day, the president and first lady Laura Bush hosted a reception for veterans at the White House. "On Veterans Day, the American people take pride in every citizen who has defended America, in times of calm and in times of danger," he said during the White House event. "We live today in a time of danger; war has come once again to America. Our nation is called to meet great challenges, and our military is called to the defense of our people and to the defense of our freedoms."
The president told his White House guests that America has no territorial ambitions. "Our nation is committed to freedom for ourselves and for others," he said. "We and our allies have fought evil regimes and left in their place self-governing and prosperous nations."
The American soldier, sailor, airman and Marine have proven the world over to be the best ambassadors of the United States, Bush noted. He quoted a World War II veteran who said that around the world, "the sight of a 12-man squad of teenage boys armed in uniform brought terror to people's hearts. But there was an exception: a squad of GIs, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever saw to people's lips and joy to their hearts. GIs meant candy and cigarettes, C-rations and freedom."
The president sees the same view today. "These men and women (in the military) are still the best of America," he said. "They are prepared for every mission we give them, and they are worthy of the standards set for them by America's veterans. 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 everlasting gratitude."