CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush will spend part of his Thanksgiving Day (search) calling soldiers to express his and the nation's gratitude for their service in Iraq.
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Bush would call "a number of" soldiers. The official did not provide specifics, but at least one of the intended recipients of the president's personal thanks is recovering in Germany (search) from injuries suffered in the Iraq war.
Despite the president's declaration that major combat ended May 1, deadly violence has continued in Iraq (search), posing a potential public relations and political hazard to the president.
Bush often talks of the need to thank military personnel and their families for the sacrifices they are making by being deployed overseas, and on Tuesday, during a speech on Medicare in Las Vegas, he put that in the context of this week's holiday.
"As we head into Thanksgiving, we need to give thanks to our soldiers for their sacrifice, for the honor they bring to our country, for the service they render by bringing freedom to troubled parts of the world," he said.
Bush writes a letter to the family of every soldier killed, and has met with the relatives of dozens of fallen troops during visits to military bases around the country in recent months, as he did Monday in Colorado. He has also visited on several occasions with wounded soldiers recovering at a military hospital in Washington.
But -- reflecting the difficulty of balancing the desire to honor all the dead equally with the need to not appear to be trying to distance himself from the bad news -- he has also often chosen not to comment on specific deadly incidents, and has not attended any of the funerals.
Otherwise, Bush is celebrating Thanksgiving much like he always does -- alongside family members, enjoying a traditional feast of turkey and fixings, only this time with a pecan pie made from nuts from trees on his ranch.
Bush arrived here Monday night after spending the day at Fort Carson, an Army base near Colorado Springs, Colo. On Tuesday, he attended a series of events in Las Vegas and Phoenix before returning to spend the rest of the week in relative seclusion at the sprawling Prairie Chapel Ranch.
He was clearly relishing the prospect of the time away from Washington as he appeared before GOP donors Tuesday in Las Vegas and described his morning on the ranch with his wife, Laura.
"We went for a 3 1/2-mile walk together across the countryside, had a little time to visit outside the bubble in Washington, D.C.," Bush said wistfully, still many hours away from returning to the 1,600-acre property outside this tiny central Texas town.
The president's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, are visiting for the holiday, as are his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.
On the table was to be a free-range turkey, turkey cornbread dressing, chipotle sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, asparagus and a salad of Texas grapefruit, toasted walnuts and greens, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan reported Wednesday. Alongside the "Prairie Chapel pecan pie" would be another classic dessert: pumpkin pie, she said.
Buchan remained mum on the First Family's other guests, and on their non-eating plans for Thanksgiving Day.
On Sunday afternoon, the president and Mrs. Bush return to the White House to get the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons under way. On Monday, the first lady receives the official White House Christmas tree, which will arrive at the North Portico in a horse-drawn wagon.
There will be only three days to decorate it, as Mrs. Bush previews this year's holiday decorations throughout the White House residence's public rooms on Thursday.