WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush paid tribute Monday to America's fighting men and women who died in battle, saying national leaders must have "the courage and character to follow their lead" in preserving peace and freedom.
"On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the commander in chief and try to tell you how proud I am," Bush told an audience of military figures, veterans and their families at Arlington National Cemetery. Of the men and women buried in this hallowed cemetery, he said, "They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens."
Bush and his wife, Laura, traveled from the White House across the Potomac River to the rolling hillsides of Arlington National Cemetery, where he first placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and then went to an amphitheater to speak of those who "made the ultimate sacrifice to allow a free civilization to endure and flourish."
The people who wear the U.S. uniform, the president said, represent "the last best hope for mankind."
His Memorial Day outing came with the war in Iraq now in its sixth year and a day after Bush welcomed to the White House members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycling group, who gave him a cowhide vest jacket and made him an honorary member of their organization.
In his talk Monday, Bush said, "It is a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom that the number of headstones in a place like this grows with every Memorial Day."