ARLINGTON, Va. – President Bush declared Monday that “America issafer” because of its fighting forces while Sen. John Kerry went tothe Vietnam Veterans Memorial in somber but historicallyasymmetrical Memorial Day tributes.
“Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly,” saidBush, speaking at Arlington National Cemetery after laying a wreathat the Tomb of the Unknowns. “In places like Kabul and Kandahar, inMosul and Baghdad, we have seen their decency and their bravespirit,” he said.
A charcoal sky and light mist hung over the remembrance as if tounderscore the solemnity of Bush’s speech, Kerry’s visit to theVietnam monument and a parade along historic Independence Avenue. Asmattering of World War II veterans marched with people, in somecases, three generations younger, capping a weekend highlighted bythe formal opening Saturday of the National World War IIMemorial.
It was a day when political rhetoric was somewhat muted,eclipsed here by public tributes and the playing of Taps. Bush didtake a moment to praise Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for”your great leadership,” however. Rumsfeld has heard calls for hisresignation in connection with the prisoner abuse scandal. AndKerry resumed his political campaign in earnest later Monday inVirginia.
Traditional Memorial Day observances including picnics andparades were played out coast to coast – half a world away fromU.S. fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. But overseas, theconflicts raged.
Clashes continued Monday between U.S. troops and Shiitemilitiamen in fighting that strained a cease-fire called last weekaround the holy cities of Kufa and Najaf. And in Baghdad, a carbomb exploded near U.S. coalition headquarters, killing four peopleand injuring 25. Two other U.S. soldiers died over the weekend inseparate attacks, the U.S. military said.
Still, U.S. soldiers took time to remember their slain comradesduring holiday ceremonies across Iraq.
“When we return to our home stations, we must ensure that wenever forget those fallen comrades that deployed with us that willnot return to their loved ones,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, thesenior U.S. military officer here, said during a ceremony atBaghdad’s Camp Victory. “They must not have died in vain,” saidSanchez, who is due to rotate out of Iraq soon.
Bush took time out in the afternoon to call Crown PrinceAbdullah of Saudi Arabia and express condolences over the loss oflife in the attack by militants in the kingdom’s oil industry hub.Bush expressed support for the Saudi government’s handling of theshooting rampage and hostage standoff that killed 22 people, WhiteHouse spokeswoman Pamela Stevens said.
Bush also called German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to urgesupport of a strong United Nations resolution for a new Iraqigovernment. Bush urged that the two nations work together to backthe new government.
In his speech, Bush singled some of the dead from Iraq forspecial commendation:
-Capt. Joshua Byers, a West Point man and South Carolina native.”When this son of missionaries was given command of a 120-mancombat unit, he wrote to his parents, ‘I will give the meneverything I have to give,’ ” Bush said.
-Pfc. Jesse Givens of Springfield, Mass., had written to hiswife, Melissa: “Do me a favor after you tuck the children in – givethem hugs and kisses from me,” the president noted.
-Master Sgt. Kelly Hornbeck of Fort Worth, Texas, wrote hisparents saying, “I am not afraid and neither should either of yoube,” Bush said.
“Because of their fierce courage, America is safer, two terrorregimes are gone forever and more than 50 million souls now live infreedom,” Bush said to a warm applause.
Bush’s appearance, by dint of tradition and practice, was ageneric tribute to people who have fallen in all U.S. wars past andpresent, although he particularly cited Iraq. For Kerry, adecorated veteran, it was a day to focus on that conflict of the1960s and early 70s – one he would ultimately march and speakagainst.
While Bush gave a speech, Kerry said little as he walkedsomberly along the shiny black granite wall where the names of themore than 58,000 who fell in Vietnam are etched in time andremembrance. He rubbed his thumb over one of the newest names to beadded to the memorial.
“So young,” the Massachusetts Democrat mused as he looked at aphotograph of William Bronson, who died in 1976 from a seizurecaused by a head wound he had received in 1968. Kerry had workedwith the Navy to have Bronson’s name added to the wall, and he wasjoined by Bronson’s mother, Barbara and other family members.
Kerry waited until he got outside the Capital Beltway to resumenormal politics, telling an audience in Portsmouth, Va., that Bush”didn’t learn the lessons of our generation in Vietnam.”
“I believe I can lead us out of Iraq effectively byaccomplishing goals we need to accomplish, but without putting ourtroops at greater risk,” he said in a speech to relatives ofservicemen in an area that is home to a host of military bases.