updated 5/29/2004 8:00:21 PM ET 2004-05-30T00:00:21

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, making no mention of the prisoner abuse scandal that has led to calls for his ouster, told a cheering crowd of graduating cadets Saturday that they will help win the global fight against terrorism.

The defense chief received sustained applause from the families of 935 cadets graduating from the U.S. Military Academy as he urged the new officers to rely on the “moral clarity” learned at West Point.

“History may well call upon you at a critical time, at a critical moment, and you will be ready,” Rumsfeld said.

The secretary told cadets the world has changed drastically since they came to the academy in 2000, and that the Army is changing too. He said the military is becoming faster and more flexible, though the fight ahead will be difficult.

“We are closer to the beginning of this struggle, this global insurgency, than to its end,” he said.

Calls for Rumsfeld to step down
Critics have called for Rumsfeld’s resignation after pictures emerged showing smiling soldiers posing with naked Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Earlier this week, 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore called for the resignation of Rumsfeld and other top security officials in the Bush administration.

Later Saturday, more than 100 anti-war protesters marched to the main gate of West Point through the adjacent village, Highland Falls, chanting “Rumsfeld resign!” Some held signs calling for Rumsfeld’s ouster; others held aloft flag-draped coffins.

President Bush has made clear he wants Rumsfeld to stay.

Evoking past West Point graduates
On Saturday, Rumsfeld repeatedly lauded the military and evoked the line of heroes who graduated from West Point, from Ulysses S. Grant to K.C. Hughes, a 2001 graduate he said was awarded the Bronze Star after being wounded while fighting heroically in Iraq.

“The civilized world will win the global war against terror because of people like Lt. Hughes, and because of those of you here today,” he said.

Rumsfeld noted the academy emphasis on loyalty and character.

“Your love for soldiers must be as unconditional as it is for your own families,” he said. “Use the skills you learned here to bring out the very best in them, including respect for others. And always fall back on the moral clarity of the honor code that you’ve learned here.”

The new lieutenants could be posted to Iraq or Afghanistan in a year. As mothers and fathers tearfully congratulated the new officers afterward, a number of them said they were anxious to go.

“We’re just ready to get out there and do our job,” said 2nd Lt. Brandon Carlson of Mattoon, Ky.

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