CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush said Saturday that with the country emerging from war, the weekend's religious observances remind him of "the value of freedom and the power of a love stronger than death."
"This year, Easter and Passover have special meaning for the families of our men and women in uniform who feel so intensely the absence of their loved ones during these days," Bush said on his weekly radio address.
Fighting in Iraq has all but wound down, and the military's attention has turned mostly to restoring order and rebuilding Iraq. But 250,000 Americans in uniform remain deployed in the Persian Gulf, and the loved ones of 128 American service members the Pentagon says have been killed in the conflict are grieving loss.
The president speaks often of his search for God's guidance in his decisions, including to wage war in Iraq, and the power of prayer. On Saturday, he offered the nation's prayers to the soldiers' families.
"America mourns those who have been called home, and we pray that their families will find God's comfort and God's grace," Bush said.
"His purposes are not always clear to us, yet this season brings a promise: that good can come out of evil, that hope can arise from despair, and that all our grief will someday turn to joy, a joy that can never be taken away."
Bush is taking a five-day Easter vacation at his 1,600-acre ranch outside this central Texas town. His parents, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, joined the president and first lady Laura Bush at the ranch for their usual joint Easter celebration.
On Sunday, Bush and perhaps some family members planned to helicopter to Fort Hood, an Army base about 50 miles south of the ranch, for Easter services. Around half the 42,000 personnel based at Fort Hood are in Iraq.
By then, the seven American prisoners of war who had been held in captivity for three weeks in Iraq and were rescued last weekend will have arrived back at their Texas bases from a military hospital in Germany. Five of the POWs are returning to Fort Bliss, at El Paso, and two -- downed Apache helicopter crewmen Chief Warrant Officers David Williams and Ronald Young Jr. -- at Fort Hood. They were flying back on Saturday.
It was unclear whether Bush would meet privately with Williams and Young during his brief stop at the base.
After the Easter break, with President Saddam Hussein's Iraqi administration dispatched and heavy fighting in Iraq apparently over, aides say Bush will return to a more aggressive travel schedule to promote his domestic policies, primarily his proposed tax cuts.
He has a trip scheduled outside Washington late in the week to sell his proposal and talk about Iraq. States that could appear on Bush's travel schedule include the homes of two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio, who voted with most Democrats to limit tax cuts to no more than $350 billion.
Plans were under way for a Thursday visit to a plant in Lima, Ohio, that makes the redoubtable Abrams M1A2 tank, a senior Republican told The Associated Press. It would be the president's ninth visit to Ohio, a prime political battleground state that the White House considers crucial to Bush's re-election.
Bush originally asked for $726 billion in tax cuts over 10 years, but lately has begun to push for the $550 billion agreed in the House.