Bush, and politics, take second-row seats on Veterans Day

Times Staff Writer

In the simple hall -- linoleum floor, white cinder-block walls -- that is home to American Legion Post 121, President Bush on Sunday told the families of two soldiers and two Marines who died in Iraq that “their sacrifice will not be in vain.”

His brief message on Veterans Day was one that finds its way regularly into his speeches about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in his now-frequent private meetings with families of the wars’ casualties.

But on Sunday, his part in the ceremony, a six-minute speech, suggested an afterthought -- after four mayors awkwardly read the stilted language of memorial resolutions, after the presentation of Lone Star flags that had flown over the Capitol in Austin, Texas, and after “gold star” banners were handed to mothers and widows.

Bush sat through it all -- the recounting, one by one, of the lives and the losses -- and by the time he was called to speak before about 200 people, he abandoned what had been planned as the political focus of his remarks: an attack on Democrats for not yet approving the Veterans Affairs appropriation.

“He felt it was more appropriate to shorten his remarks,” White House spokesman Gordon D. Johndroe said.


Bush was seated in the second row; parents and widows were in the first. He sat next to Janie Shanks, grandmother of Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry, who was 28 when he died in Iraq on March 8, 2006.

On one mission, Fry, the father of three children, entered a home to disarm an improvised bomb strapped to a retarded child, said Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, whose congressional district includes Waco.

Days before his tour was to end, Fry volunteered for another mission to defuse a bomb , Edwards said. That one killed him.

On Sunday, there was an elderly bugler in a yellow cap, white gloves grasping his horn as he blew taps. A local woman, Ann Harder, sang “God Bless America” a cappella and solo, until she paused, said, “Sing with me,” and 200 voices joined in.

The post commander, Clayton Hueske, admitted he was nervous and stumbled over his words; another speaker gave the audience permission to cry.

Some speakers, but not all, were dressed in jacket and tie. In the audience were leather motorcycle vests, a white shirt with an American flag, a red 2004 state high school football championship T-shirt -- and, throughout, the quiet sound of sniffling.

“The young men we remember today did not live to be called veterans,” Bush said in his speech. “The valor and selfless devotion of these men fills their families with immeasurable pride. Yet this pride cannot fill the hole in their loved ones’ aching hearts, or relieve the burden of grief that will remain for a lifetime.

“In their sorrow,” he said, “these families need to know, and families all across the nation of the fallen need to know, that your loved ones served a cause that is good, and just, and noble.”