President Bush honored the war dead Monday, paying tribute equally to those fighting in today’s era of terrorist threats and heroes from wars of yesteryear, including those buried at Arlington National Cemetery or still missing in action.
“We must honor their sacrifice by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty,” Bush told a large crowd of military leaders, rank-and-file troops and their families gathered under a brilliant sun at the nation’s most revered military burial ground.
Standing in front of two large American flags draped over a marbled wall, Bush cited letters from some service members who subsequently died in action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“My death will mean nothing if you stop now,” Louisiana National Guard Sgt. Michael Evans wrote in a letter home. Evans died Jan. 28 while on patrol in western Baghdad, part of a major security operation to protect the first free Iraqi elections in more than 50 years.
“I know it’ll be hard, but I gave my life so you could live, not just live, but live free,” Evans wrote.
'We see the scale of heroism'
Bush said men and women buried on the grounds here “answered the call of service in our nation’s hour of need.”
“We resolve that their sacrifice will always be remembered by a grateful nation,” the president said.
“Every year on this day, we pause to remember Americans who have fallen by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns,” said Bush. “The names of the men buried there are known only to God, but their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten by our nation.”
“... And when the sun came up this morning,” he added, “the flag flew at half staff in solemn gratitude and in deep respect. We receive the fallen in sorrow and we take them to an honored place to rest. Looking across this field, we see the scale of heroism and sacrifice.”
The president was accompanied to the grass field of white headstones — the burial ground of more than 225,000 military heroes and veterans of every U.S. war — by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Bush said America “has always been a reluctant warrior,” but then noted the more than 400,000 who perished in World War II alone.
“All who are buried here understood their duty,” he said, “and all carried with them memories of a family they hoped to keep safe by their sacrifice.”
“Today, we also remember the Americans who were still missing. We honor them, and our nation is determined to account for all of them,” Bush said.
Iraq, Afghan wars
Turning to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he noted that the nation is “fighting a new war.”
“Across the globe, the military is standing directly between our people and the worst dangers in the world,” Bush declared. “And America is grateful to have such brave defenders.”
“The war on terror brought great causes,” he said, noting conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Because of the brave sacrifice,” Bush added, “two terrorist regimes are gone forever. Freedom is on the march and America is more secure.”
It was excerpts from the letters that Bush read to the audience that drew tears from some, along with the strongest applause.
“Realize that I died doing something that I truly love for a purpose greater than myself,” Marine Capt. Ryan Beaupre of St. Anne, Ill., wrote to his family. Beaupre was killed when the helicopter he was helping to pilot crashed in Kuwait in the early hours of the war.
- In St. Paul, Minn., relatives of soldiers in Iraq held a running race while the soldiers themselves participated at their base in Taji, Iraq, at exactly the same time. Satellite feeds carried video and sound to both locations, allowing people to watch as runners crossed each finish line. Relatives and soldiers later spoke to each other over the satellite connection. One organizer says it was simply fantastc.
- On the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., the anti-war group Veterans for Peace set up a temporary “Arlington West” display of more than 1,600 white crosses in memory of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Some crosses were decorated with flowers along with pictures and names of the dead.
- In Boston, about 70 musicians gathered on at City Hall Plaza for a Memorial Day tribute to civilians killed in Iraq. Performers with wind, percussion or string instruments formed a circle and sounded notes for each of the war’s civilian casualties — a high note for a child, a medium note for a woman and a low note for a man, up to 25,000 notes in all. “The civilian deaths are not taken into account and rarely reported,” said Nancy Adams, director of the Mobius Artists Group, which organized the event. “We’re trying to take note of all the causalities of war.”
- A memorial for American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was dedicated in a courtyard behind the Old North Church in Boston’s North End. “We do this to remember,” said the Rev. Patricia Handloss of the Old North Church. “It is important we never forget what our young men and women are doing, not for us but for the world.”