Standing before thousands of Marines, President Bush asked other Americans on Tuesday to make the war their own by helping battle-weary troops and their families.
“The time of war is a time of sacrifice, especially for our military families,” Bush said, wearing a tan military jacket with epaulets. “I urge every American to find some way to thank our military and to help out the military family down the street.”
In October 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to rout the terrorist-protecting Taliban government. The military took on the additional burden of the war in Iraq starting with the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
In all that time, while traveling widely to visit military personnel and sit at the bedsides of the wounded, the president has asked little of the civilian public.
But with casualties increasing and the number of U.S. troops in Iraq slated to rise before next month’s planned elections there, Bush urged civilians to do more.
Pearl Harbor remembered
Speaking on the 63rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Bush’s call to sacrifice recalled President Roosevelt’s World War II-era requests for Americans to pitch in for the war effort. Citizens responded then by planting victory gardens, purchasing war bonds, contributing metals and transforming commercial factories into weapons-makers.
Bush, who flew across the country and back in one long day to a base that has seen one of the highest casualty rates in Iraq, suggested ways Americans now can support troops — and their left-behind families — by citing the example of several already doing so.
Groups have been established to welcome home the wounded, collect thank-you letters, build homes adapted to disabled vets, and raise money for military families who must forsake home and jobs to stand beside a recovering soldier, he said.
“In this season of giving, let us stand with the men and women who stand up for America, our military,” Bush said.
The president spent the bulk of his visit to this southern California base behind closed doors.
After his speech, he joined troops in a mess hall decorated for Christmas for a lunch of beef, noodles and rice. He then went into a base gymnasium to face hundreds of relatives of the fallen.
According to a Camp Pendleton spokesman, Cpl. Patrick Carroll, 269 Marines from the base have been killed in action in Iraq. A total of more than 1,270 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, including nearly 1,000 who have died as a result of hostile action.
‘Words can only go so far’
In his public remarks, Bush sought to console the survivors.
“Words can only go so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who have died,” he said. “But you can know this: They gave their lives for a cause that is just. And as in other generations, their sacrifice will have spared millions from the lives of tyranny and sorrow.”
Recently, more than 21,000 Camp Pendleton Marines have been serving in Iraq’s al-Anbar province, including the battle to secure the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
Other missions have included being the first conventional forces to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and rolling across Iraq’s border for the march to Baghdad that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Bush declared the Fallujah campaign a success, saying, “We have dealt the enemy a severe blow.”
But he warned that troops will see more attacks and, without saying it explicitly, more losses as Iraq’s Jan. 30 elections approach.
“The enemies of freedom in Iraq have been wounded, but they’re not yet defeated,” the president said. “We can expect further violence from the terrorists. ... The terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections in Iraq. And they will fail.”
Bush promised, as he has repeatedly over recent days, that the elections “will proceed as planned.”