WASHINGTON -- America's top military leaders -- the commander in chief, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff -- commemorated this Memorial Day by paying tribute to the tradition of wartime military service that has distinguished generations of Americans, past and present.
"The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines we remember today answered the call of service in their nation's hour of need," President Bush said today in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia. "They stood to fight for America's highest ideals. ... All stood to protect America. ... Their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten by our nation."
Bush noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Some 400,000 Americans, he observed, died in that conflict. "America will always honor the character and the achievements of your brave generation," he said.
Today, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, "another generation is fighting a new war against an enemy that threatens the peace and stability of the world," Bush added. "Across the globe, our military is standing directly between our people and the worst dangers in the world -- and Americans are grateful to have such brave defenders."
In introducing the president, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that today, as in the past, Americans who have fallen in battle were "lost in a struggle dedicated to the eternal truth of freedom and the human spirit."
"Our country," he said, "was founded on that spirit, and Americans have nurtured it through every war in every era."
Indeed, Rumsfeld said, the current war on terror is being waged for the same essential purpose as the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and Cold War. President Bush, "like his predecessor (Abraham Lincoln) understood that we had to fight for freedom to save it -- and that liberty's survival here depends on its advance abroad," Rumsfeld said.
Bush, like Lincoln, has "offered the hope of a new birth of freedom, not just for our nation, but for all who seek freedom," the secretary added.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the former joint chiefs chairman, also said that the current war on terrorism has historical precedent. He noted that this month marked "the 60th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe."
America's World War II generation has become known as "The Greatest Generation." But, Myers said, the current conflict is showing there is a new "Greatest Generation." This new Greatest Generation, he said, is going "bravely into harm's way, resolved to continue this difficult fight for as long as it takes."
"They know that failure is not an option," he said.
Myers paraphrased comments by President Truman, noting "victory on the battlefield is but a step on the road to peace." Truman, he observed, said that peace can be achieved "only by hard, toilsome, painstaking work."
American troops today "perform that same painstaking work" in places like Kandahar, Afghanistan; Kirkuk, Iraq; and Kosovo, a province of Serbia and Montenegro plagued by ethnic violence, Myers said. "Our service men and women understand very well that we still have much more work to do," he added. "Because just as peace cannot be brought cheaply, it cannot be won quickly."
Today's Memorial Day commemoration took place at Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater. The weather was warm and sunny, and the amphitheater completely filled with an eager and appreciative audience.
Just before he arrived at the amphitheater, Bush laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. "I'm honored to do that this morning on behalf of the American people," he said. "The names of the men buried there are known only to God, but their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten by our nation."