President Bush, speaking yesterday during Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, acknowledged the “great cost” of the war on terror, but pledged to honor the nation’s fallen troops by completing the mission for which they gave their lives.
The president spoke to a supportive crowd of thousands that packed the cemetery amphitheater. Minutes earlier, he had continued the solemn presidential tradition of placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“As we look across these acres, we begin to tally the cost of our freedom, and we count it a privilege to be citizens of the country served by so many brave men and women,” Mr. Bush said. “And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty and building a safer world.”
Calling it a day of “last letters and fresh tears,” Mr. Bush read from letters sent home by servicemen later killed in action.
“My death will mean nothing if you stop now,” the president said, quoting Army Sgt. Michael Evans of Marrero, La. “I know it will be hard, but I gave my life so you could live. Not just live, but live free.” Sgt. Evans was killed Jan. 28 while on patrol in western Baghdad. He left behind the letter to be opened in the event of his death.
The president also read from a letter left by Marine Capt. Ryan Beaupre of St. Anne, Ill.
“Realize that I died doing something that I truly love, and for a purpose greater than myself.”
Capt. Beaupre was killed in the first hours of the war.
“These are the men and women who wear our uniform,” Mr. Bush said. “These are the men and women who defend our freedom. And these are the men and women who are buried here.”
Mr. Bush’s call to honor the nation’s fallen troops through a rededication to their current mission — reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — was one of several echoes of the president who guided the nation through the Civil War.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who introduced Mr. Bush, established the metaphor, linking the smoke rising from the cannons at the Battle of Bull Run that could be seen from the windows of the White House to the smoke rising from “a different kind of battlefield”: the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Mr. Rumsfeld lingered outside the amphitheater after the program to shake hands and pose for pictures with the enthusiastic crowds of mostly service members and their families that encircled him 12-deep at times.
He broke away from the crowds at one point to greet a handful of World War II veterans gathered in the shade outside the amphitheater.
“I thought it was fabulous,” said Preston Scheid, of Bothell, Wash, who was among the group.
Mr. Scheid, 87, was a radioman on a B-51 for three years starting in 1942, and played in a Dixieland jazz band he formed with members of his unit.
Mr. Scheid said he never expected the outpouring of emotion he saw yesterday, adding that his wartime service was just a way to serve his country.
“Really, I felt I was very fortunate,” he said. “I still feel that.”