From Staff and Wire Reports
President Bush, delivering a Memorial Day speech surrounded by the graves of thousands of military dead, said yesterday that the United States must continue fighting the war on terror in the name of those who have already given their life to the cause.
“The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made,” Bush said, quoting from a letter that Lt. Mark Dooley wrote to his parents before he was killed last September in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
Noting that some 270 fighting men and women of the nearly 2,500 who have fallen since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush said, “We have seen the costs in the war on terror that we fight today.”
“I am in awe of the men and women who sacrifice for the freedom of the United States of America,” Bush said, drawing a long standing ovation from troops, families of the fallen and others gathered at the cemetery’s 5,000-seat white marble amphitheater.
“Here in the presence of veterans they fought with and loved ones whose pictures they carried, the fallen give silent witness to the price of liberty and our nation honors them this day and every day,” he said.
The nation can best honor the dead by “defeating the terrorists, … and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace,” Bush said.
The president spoke after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He ventured across the Potomac River on a sun-splashed Memorial Day just a short time after signing into law a bill that restricts protests at military funerals.
At the White House, Bush signed the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, passed by Congress largely in response to the activities of a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming the deaths symbolized God’s anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.
The new law bars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery. This restriction applies an hour before until an hour after a funeral. Those violating the act would face a fine of up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison.
Yesterday’s observance at Arlington National Cemetery was not a funeral, so demonstrators were free to speak their minds at the site. Bush’s motorcade passed several protestors on the way in, including a small group that held signs saying, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates fags.”
About 10 people from the Washington D.C. chapter of FreeRepublic.com, a self-styled grassroots conservative group, stood across the road with signs supporting U.S. troops. A large sign held by several people said, “God bless our troops, defenders of freedom, American heroes.”
The FreeRepublic.com group was trying to counter demonstrations by the Kansas-based group, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, who previously organized protests against those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.
In an interview when the House passed the bill that Bush signed yesterday, Phelps accused Congress of “blatantly violating” his First Amendment rights. He said that if it became law, he would continue to demonstrate but would abide by the law’s restrictions.
Bush signed a second bill yesterday that allows combat troops to deposit tax-free pay into individual retirement accounts. Supporters of the legislation argued that rules governing these accounts were punishing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who earn only tax-free combat pay.
Through Veterans for Peace – a nongovernmental organization represented at the United Nations – the atmosphere of Arlington National Cemetery became more tangible for some local residents.
In Ann Arbor, Chapter 93 of VFP held a memorial yesterday to honor the 87 confirmed combat-related deaths of Michigan soldiers.
With support from Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against War, VFP set up the memorial, “Arlington Michigan,” in Hanover Square Park.
Members of MFSO and VFP said the memorial honors not only the soldiers but everyone affected by the ongoing war in Iraq.
“Our position is that we remember those who have served, are serving and their families, and to make sure that people in this area are called to remember that we continue to lose lives,” said MFSO and VFP member and University alum Deb Regal.
VFP sponsors memorials, demonstrations and educational forums throughout the year, including July 4 and the anniversary of the formal invasion of Iraq.
Members said a counter protest was not expected.
Chapter 93 represents Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee and Washtenaw counties.
– Managing News Editor Carissa Miller contributed to this report.