As U.S. and Iraqi troops pressed their offensive in Fallouja, President Bush on Thursday led the nation in celebrating Veterans Day, pausing to honor the millions of servicemen and women who have served their country.
Joined by First Lady Laura Bush, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi and leaders of all the armed services, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Some of tomorrow’s veterans are in combat now in Iraq,” the president told an audience at the cemetery, which included veterans of World War I. “They have a clear mission to defeat the terrorists and aid the rise of a new government that can defend itself. They are performing that mission with skill and with honor. They are making us proud. They are winning.”
He spoke as U.S. and Iraqi troops fought for a fourth day to take control of Fallouja, the insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
About 142,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, and thousands of others are in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, these brave Americans helped sweep away a vicious tyranny allied with terror and prepared the way for a free people to elect its own leaders,” Bush said. “In Iraq, our men and women fought a ruthless enemy of America, setting the people free from a tyrant, who now sits in a prison cell.” He was referring to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Bush vowed to seek a full accounting of those still classified as missing in action.
“Today we’re thinking of our fellow Americans last seen on duty, whose fate is still undetermined. We will not rest until we have made the fullest possible accounting for every life,” he said.
The president hailed veterans as “the hidden heroes of a peaceful nation -- our colleagues and friends, neighbors and family members who answered the call and returned to live in the land they defended.”
“What veterans have given our country is beyond our power to fully repay,” he said. “Yet today we recognize our debt to their honor. And on this national holiday, our hearts are filled with respect and gratitude for the veterans of the United States of America.”
After the ceremony, Bush returned to the White House. He met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday evening.