Bush Lays Wreath to Honor Veterans - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

11/11/03 – Washington, DC

Bush Lays Wreath to Honor Veterans

President Bush, center, David Berger, national commander of the Army-Navy Union, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, right, take part in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, in honor of Veterans Day. President Bush, center, David Berger, national commander of the Army-Navy Union, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, right, take part in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, in honor of Veterans Day.


Mired in a complicated, unfinished mission in Iraq, President Bush paused on Veterans Day to reflect on the sacrifices of 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and to honor soldiers of past wars. "This nation has always gone to war reluctantly," Bush said.

Speaking in a drizzle at a coliseum draped in flags at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush cited the sacrifice of U.S. troops who died fighting for freedom in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

"The loss is terrible," Bush said Tuesday. "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."

As Bush arrived at the cemetery, he was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Cannon blasts shook the cemetery and left smoke hanging over rows of tombstones in low-lying areas. He observed a moment of silence and listened to taps, his head bowed.

Bush helped set a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 85th anniversary of the signing of an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918 that ended World War I.

On Veterans Day just one year ago, he threatened to commit the "full force and might" of U.S. military against Saddam Hussein unless the Iraqi dictator quickly disarmed.

This year, the administration finds itself empty-handed in the search for weapons of mass destruction. And daily attacks against remaining troops have pushed the U.S. death toll to nearly 400, with more than half of those since Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier Tuesday the United States has sufficient forces on the ground but that he wouldn't hesitate to recommend more if necessary.

"We're now at a point where we have as many or more Iraqi security forces as American security forces in Iraq," he said on CBS's "The Early Show."

Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Monday acknowledged an upsurge in violence, especially in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" encompassing Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit.

But she said the administration's No. 1 strategy is to increase the number of Iraqis involved in their own security. She said there are now 118,000 trained Iraqi security forces.

Also Tuesday, Bush was signing the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act, which doubles the tax-free death gratuity payment given to the families of fallen soldiers from $6,000 to $12,000; and the National Cemetery Expansion Act to help establish new national cemeteries for deceased veterans.

There are an estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, and about 1,500 die each day. With an aging World War II generation, the Veterans Affairs Department estimates the number of veterans dying is expected to peak at 687,000 in 2006.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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