In Columbus Day Speech, Bush Pays Respects to 'Sacrifices' by Americans

On a day when two U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq, President Bush (search) used a Columbus Day (search) speech to pay tribute to Americans who have died in that war and others.

"That's what's happening today: People are willing to sacrifice for the country they love," Bush said at the White House. "They remember the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, and so do I."

Bush said he writes a letter to the family of each fallen American soldier and has wept with relatives.

"It is hard," Bush said in an interview with the Dallas-based Belo affiliate services TV network.

"I tell them that I'm sorry that -- about the grief they suffer, and you know, as a dad I can't imagine the grief a mom or dad or a wife or son or daughter must feel," Bush said in the interview. "I try to do the best I can to send our heartfelt condolences, and I also remind them that I believe the sacrifice their child and-or husband or wife has made is in the national interests of our country."

Bush recalled a meeting at Fort Stewart, Ga., a month ago with relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq.

"I've hugged and cried with, and talked to a room full of families, of loved ones, and I did the best I could do to console them in their grief. And I owe that to those who have suffered," Bush said.

In his Columbus Day speech, the president singled out a sampling of Italian-Americans who have sacrificed in battle: John Basilone, killed in 1945 during the invasion of Iwo Jima, and Rocky Versace, a Green Beret who defied his Viet Cong captors and was executed in 1965. And he cited New York City Fire Chief Peter Ganci, who died at the World Trade Center.

One soldier was killed and two wounded Monday when attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at their patrol in Tikrit (search). A second soldier was killed and another wounded when their vehicle struck a land mine in Beiji (search), 120 miles north of Baghdad.

The two deaths brought to 96 the number of U.S. soldiers known to have been killed in hostile action since May 1, when Bush declared major combat over.

Bush rarely speaks publicly about the deaths of American service members in Iraq, beyond saying that the nation mourns the losses.