WACO, Texas - As America marked the fifth Veterans Day since the invasion of Iraq, President Bush honored US troops past and present at a tearful ceremony yesterday for four Texans who died there.
"In their sorrow, these families need to know - and families all across our nation of the fallen - need to know that your loved ones served a cause that is good and just and noble," Bush said. "And as their commander in chief, I make you this promise: Their sacrifice will not be in vain."
"These men and women saw the future of the terrorists' intent for our country and they said with clear voices, 'Not on my watch,' " Bush said at American Legion Post 121 in Waco.
"America is blessed to have such brave defenders. They are tomorrow's veterans and they are bringing pride to our country. Their service is noble and it is necessary," he said. "The enemies who attacked us six years ago want to strike our country again, and next time they hope to kill Americans on a scale that will make 9/11 pale by comparison."
Bush also had planned to use his Veterans Day speech to scold Congress for not sending him a veterans spending bill. But with the event running long, the president finished without any reference to the bill or Congress.
In Washington yesterday, retired general Colin Powell and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, spoke at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. The black granite memorial was dedicated 25 years ago tomorrow.
"There are no politics here, no policy disagreements," said Powell, a Vietnam veteran and former secretary of state who helped lead the nation into the divisive war. He said the memorial was a "sacred place."
Since the V-shaped wall was completed, it has become a de facto shrine. More than 100,000 mementos of the dead and messages from survivors have been left there by the millions who visit it each year.
Bush, who is scheduled to return to the White House today, was in Texas for the holiday, after his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at his ranch in Crawford.
The four Texas men he paid tribute to yesterday were among the more than 3,860 members of the US military who have died in Iraq since 2003.
A bugler played taps for the men, Army Specialist Javier Antonio Villanueva of Bellmead, Army Specialist Jeffrey Paul Shaffer of Waco, Marine Lance Corporal Johnny Ray Strong of Waco, and Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry of Lorena.
Post officials offered comforting words to the fallen troops' families and presented them with plaques and flags. The ceremony ended with the audience joining a soloist in singing "God Bless America."
Bush has spent four of the past six Veterans Days at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. This year, Vice President Dick Cheney went to Arlington to pay tribute to Iraq veterans.
In a 10-minute speech, Cheney said soldiers from World War I to "the current fight against terrorism" have served their country valiantly and "kept us free at the land we call home."
"Free to live as we see fit, free to work, worship, speak our minds, to choose our own leaders," the vice president said. "May the rest of us never take them for granted."
Hundreds of people of braved the crisp November weather to witness Cheney's tribute and cheered when he offered personal regards from Bush. Cheney placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Cheney quoted General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, in saying troops there are fighting in a complex and challenging situation, and praised them for a "magnificent job."
"Our conduct of our military today and throughout our nation's history makes this country very proud," Cheney said. "It is our prayer they will return in victory, safely home, to live out their lives and be here to observe many Veterans Days to come."
The White House said Bush had planned to criticize Congress for not sending him the appropriations measure that funds programs for veterans.
The veterans bill has gotten caught up in a larger battle between Bush and Congress over Democratic efforts to add about $23 billion for domestic programs to Bush's $933 billion proposal for all agency budgets.
Administration officials said there is no reason why Congress could not have sent the bill to the president by Veterans Day, as he requested, except that lawmakers wanted to attach it to other bills the president has said he would veto.