|WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2008 – On his last Veterans Day as commander in chief, President Bush paid tribute to all those who have worn the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard during a speech at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.|
"Today we send a clear message to all who have worn the uniform: Thank you for your courage, thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for standing up when your nation needed you most," he told the crowd of about 5,000, which included 2,500 veterans and about 500 members of the active military.
Like the many veterans who have served in the military, Bush noted that the Intrepid has also served the nation well. Launched on April 26, 1943, and commissioned on Aug. 16, 1943, the Intrepid took part in the World War II invasion of the Marshall Islands and played a key role in the amphibious assault on Okinawa and the Battles of Leyte Gulf.
Following the war's end, the Intrepid continued to serve, Bush said.
"As the United States raced into the new frontier of space, the Intrepid stood by to retrieve astronauts returning to Earth," Bush said. "During the Cold War, she patrolled the Mediterranean and helped force the surrender of pro-Castro terrorists who had hijacked a freighter in the Caribbean, and did three tours off the waters of Vietnam."
After more than 30 years at sea, the Intrepid was decommissioned in 1974, destined to be scrapped. But thanks to the work of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, Bush said, the Intrepid moved to New York City, and "since 1982, she has been a museum that educates new generations of Americans about the high price that those who came before them paid for their freedom."
"Even as a museum, the Intrepid still answered the call to service," the president said. On Sept. 11, 2001, following the terrorist attack on New York, the Intrepid was used as an emergency command center, with first responders launching helicopters from the decks. Bush said the ship, "which helped defeat the great totalitarian threats of the 20th century – was front and center in the opening moments of a new struggle against the forces of hatred and fear.
"The war on terror has required courage; it has required resolve equal to what previous generations of Americans brought to the fields of Europe and the deep waters of the Pacific," he said. "And I'm proud to report to my fellow citizens, our armed forces -- the armed forces of this generation -- have showed up for the fight, and America is more secure for it.
"They are representative of the finest our nation offers. And they have the support of strong and caring and loving families," he continued. "And so on this Veterans Day, not only do we honor those who have worn the uniform, those who are wearing the uniform -- we honor their families."
Bush said the nation has a moral obligation to support military families and veterans. He noted that he has worked with Congress to nearly double the funding for servicemembers and to implement recommendations to ensure "we have a mental health care system and physical health care system worthy of the sacrifice of those who have worn the uniform."
"It has been my privilege to work with the United States Congress to expand education benefits for both members of our military as well as our veterans," he said. "It has been my privilege to say loud and clear to our veterans, ‘We love you, we respect you, and we thank you for serving the United States of America.'"
Five servicemembers accompanied the president to New York aboard Air Force One: Montana Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce-Merino, Marine Sgt. John Badon, Navy Chief Petty Officer Shenequa Cox, Coast Guard Petty Officer Chris Hutto and Air Force Senior Airman Alicia Goetschel.
Noyce-Merino is assigned to B Company, 1-163rd Cavalry Regiment, Montana Army National Guard; Badon is assigned to the Basic School for Martial Arts Center of Excellence, Quantico, Va.; Cox is assigned to Navy Information Operations Command, Kunia, Hawaii; Hutto is assigned to the Aids to Navigation Team, Jacksonville, Fla.; and Goetschel is assigned to the 100th Security Forces Squadron, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom.
Upon arrival in New York, Bush said he was honored to travel with these men and women who volunteered to serve the nation in a time of war.
"Veterans have inspired troops such as these. Veterans have inspired me," the president said. "I was raised by a veteran. I appreciate the commitment to our country that the veterans have made. I am committed to making sure that today's veterans get all the health care and support they need from the federal government for agreeing to serve in a time of danger.
"Our nation is blessed because our liberties have been defended by brave men and women in the past," he said. "And we are blessed to have brave men and women defend our liberties today."
During his speech, Bush noted that he is often asked what he's going to miss about the presidency once he leaves office.
"The truth of the matter is, I will miss being the commander-in-chief of such a fabulous group of men and women -- those who wear the uniform of the United States military," he said.