WASHINGTON – President Bush paid tribute Thursday to Hispanics who serve in the military and to the "army of compassion" that religious Hispanics form with prayer and good works.
At the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast (search), Bush laced his speech with Spanish, rattled off a litany of Spanish surnames in the audience, some of them members of his administration, and showered his listeners with praise.
"Hispanic Americans bring many gifts to this nation — hard work and strong cultural traditions and patriotism," Bush said. "Your good works and reverence bring compassion for our country and honor to almighty God."
Bush singled out for special praise a "son of Mexico" who served in the Marines for 25 years and was wounded in Iraq. Bush visited Master Gunnery Sgt. Guadalupe Denogean at a hospital last month as he received a Purple Heart (search) and took his oath of citizenship.
"It was an amazing experience, a truly amazing experience to be in the hospital where he was recovering from his wound, to see this son of Mexico (search) raise his right hand and pledge to defend and support the Constitution of the United States," Bush said. "He had kept that oath for decades before he took it, and I'm proud to call him my fellow American."
At least five Mexican-born soldiers, all of whom had immigrated to the United States years earlier, were killed in Iraq.
Bush received 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, more than any previous Republican presidential candidate, and he has assiduously courted Hispanic voters in hopes of winning a bigger share next year.
Hispanics — people of Mexican and other Latin American origin — make up 8.7 percent of the U.S. military and about 13 percent of the general population, according to the U.S. embassy in Mexico.
Bush's audience responded with frequent cries of "Amen!" Hundreds of people packed the hotel ballroom, many taping the event with their own videocameras.
"By loving a neighbor as you'd like to be loved yourself, you prove every day that faith is alive," Bush said.
"You have formed your own army, an army of compassion, and by living your faith, you bring hope to those who need it most," Bush said.