By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2008 - Under sunny skies and before a multitude gathered at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Arlington National Cemetery here, President Bush today honored the sacrifices of American men and women in uniform who gave their lives in the service of their country. Hundreds packed into the amphitheater near the tomb nestled among green, rolling hills dotted with white crosses and headstones. Some waved miniature flags, others donned patriotic garb. All came on this Memorial Day to pay tribute to servicemembers who have fought and died.
Just before his remarks, the president laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"Today, we gather to honor those who gave everything to preserve our way of life. The men and women we honor here served for liberty. They sacrificed for liberty. And in countless acts of courage, they died for liberty," Bush said.
"From faraway lands, they were returned to cemeteries like this one, where broken hearts received their broken bodies -- they found peace beneath the white headstones in the land they fought to defend," he said.
Bush said that the fresh headstones in the cemetery are a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom that is paid by those "who serve a cause greater than themselves."
"Today we mourn and remember all who have given their lives in the line of duty. Today we lift up our hearts especially those who've fallen in the past year," he said.
In his address, the president highlighted the service of Army Spc. Ronald Tucker of Fountain, Colo., and Chief Petty Officers Nathan Hardy of Durham, N.H., and Michael Koch of State College, Penn.
Bush called Tucker "a dutiful son who called his mother every day" from Iraq. Less than a month ago, Tucker and other members of his unit built a soccer field for Iraqi children. As he drove back to his base, he was killed by an enemy bomb.
Hardy and Koch were Navy SEALs and close friends who shared a battlefield tradition of going on missions with American flags underneath the shirts of their uniforms. They died in Iraq Feb. 4 after being ambushed by terrorists. Hardy and Koch are buried next to each other in Arlington National Cemetery.
"The men and women of American armed forces perform extraordinary acts of heroism every single day. Like the nation they serve, they do not glory in the devastation of war. They also do not flinch from combat when liberty and justice are embattled," Bush said.
"We will forever honor their memories. We will forever search for their comrades .... And ... we offer a solemn pledge to persevere and to provide the security for our citizens and secure the peace for which they fought," he said.
Bush received two standing ovations during the speech. He got the he first one when he took the stage, and he got the second when he spoke about his feelings for those who serve in the military.
"On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the commander-in-chief and try to tell you how proud I am at the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens," he said.
The president was introduced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who also made remarks. He said that those who died still remain near.
"We hold them to us, every day, and especially on this day. We gather to remember," Gates said.
Gates said the nation's war dead come from every part of America and from every generation, and that we owed our liberty to those who have fought and died.
"We have our liberty because of what they did. Liberty has come to other peoples because of what they did, and are doing, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other places around the world," he said.
"Mourning the war dead calls forth many emotions: remorse that they suffered; awe at how they bore that suffering; pride in the fine people they were; gratitude for their willingness to be the guarantors of our freedom," Gates said. "Their sacrifice is a reminder that we must go on, and be worthy of them, and finish their work."
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke briefly at the service. He called the freedoms earned by those who died precious but fragile.
"The precious gift of freedom they have given us is fragile and has to be safeguarded, worked for, fought for, and ... even died for," he said.
The chairman said every headstone in the cemetery represents a promise, a commitment, and a willingness of every one buried there to give their lives to preserve our way of life.