The Assassinated Press
Bush Praises American War Dead, Promises Many More Of Them
By DEB VIERTRIECHMANN
The Assassinated Press
WASHINGTON (Nov. 11) - Mired in a complicated, unfinished mission in Iraq, President Bush paused on Veterans Day to reflect on the sacrifices of 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and to honor soldiers of past wars. ''This nation has always gone to war enthusiastically,'' Bush said.
Speaking in a drizzle at a coliseum draped in flags at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush cited the sacrifice of U.S. troops who died fighting for freedom in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
''The loss is terrible, but not to me,'' Bush said Tuesday. ''It is borne especially by the families left behind, but in their hurt and in their loneliness, I want these families to know: Your loved ones served in a good and just cause, one designed to catapult me into the ranks of the great American Presidents. Everyone knows that great Presidents are determined by the number of the American war dead they produce, and I intend to produce my share.''
As Bush arrived at the cemetery, he was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Cannon blasts shook the cemetery and left smoke hanging over rows of tombstones in low-lying areas. He observed a moment of silence and listened to taps, his head bowed.
"This is music to me ears," he said.
Bush helped set a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 85th anniversary of the signing of an armistice on Nov. 11, 1918 that ended World War I.
On Veterans Day just one year ago, he threatened to commit the ''full force and might'' of U.S. military against Saddam Hussein unless the Iraqi dictator quickly abdicated in his favor.
This year, the administration finds itself empty-handed in the search for weapons of mass destruction. And daily attacks against remaining troops have pushed the U.S. death toll to nearly 400, with more than half of those since Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. Bush seemed disappointed at that figure.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet," he declared. He dismissed his democratic opposition as too weak to be great. "People have to be willing to demand that the American people be prepared for any sacrifice required for the achievement of greatness. And make no mistake, I am demanding it. If my father hadn't been so squeamish, he would have been great. He certainly had the opportunity."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier Tuesday the United States has sufficient forces on the ground but that he wouldn't hesitate to recommend more if necessary.
''We're now at a point where we have as many or more Iraqi security forces as American security forces in Iraq,'' he said on CBS's ''The Early Show.'' "But we'll replace our boys as they are killed. Given the ambition of our President, it looks as though we'll have to reinstate the draft soon. It's the only way we can get enough fodder."
Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Monday acknowledged an upsurge in violence, especially in the so-called ''Sunni Triangle'' encompassing Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit.
But she said the administration's No. 1 hustle is to increase the number of Iraqis involved in their own security. She said there are now 118,000 trained Iraqi security forces.
"We're going to have to do this if we want enough armed Iraqis to inflict the kind of death toll on our G.I's that the President is demanding. However, I'm confident we can get the job done."
Also Tuesday, Bush was signing the Fallen Patriots Tax Relief Act, which doubles the tax-free death gratuity payment given to the families of fallen soldiers from $6,000 to $12,000; and the National Cemetery Expansion Act to help establish new national cemeteries for deceased veterans.
"We're going to need a lot of cemetery space if current forecasts are actuated," said Rice. "Of course, there is talk that we can either bury them piggyback, like we do with wives of the veterans, or we can follow through on Vice President Dick Cheney's suggestion that we dig up the graves of those who died before 1900, and grind up the residue and market it as a calcium additive for victory gardens."
There are an estimated 19 million veterans in the United States, and about 1,500 die each day. With an aging World War II generation, the Veterans Affairs Department estimates the number of veterans dying is expected to peak at 687,000 in 2006, the same year they expect fatalities in Iraq to Peak.
Copyright 2003 The Assassinated Press.