SAN DIEGO – President Bush on Tuesday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II by stressing the importance of winning the War on Terror and drawing similarities between the wars then and now.
Speaking mainly to a military audience in Coronado, Calif., Bush repeated a formula he used last week in two speeches aimed at rebuilding support for the war in Iraq and likened the challenges of today's war to the long-sought victory in the 1940s.
"Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood," Bush said, likening the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to that of Pearl Harbor. He added that the difference this time around is that America faces an ideology of hate that "despises everything America stands for.
"Once again, America and her allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure," the president added.
With the Naval Air Station North Island (search) near San Diego as a backdrop, the president praised World War II veterans in a speech two weeks after the anniversary of the Aug. 14, 1945, surrender by Japan that ended World War II. More than 400,000 Americans died in World War II.
President Truman declared VJ Day on Sept. 2, 1945, after the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on board the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed to head the occupation in Japan, entered Tokyo six days after that.
Bush said Americans would honor the veterans' sacrifice by "recommitting ourselves to the great ideals for which you fought and bled.
"Today, your hair is whitened, your steps have slowed ... The freedom that was born of your sacrifice has lifted millions of God's children across the Earth. This freedom is your monument to your fallen friends, your gift to their children and grandchildren, and your sacred bond with generations of patriots past and present who have worn the nation's uniform," Bush said.
Bush drew several similarities between the reconstruction of Japan to that occurring in Iraq. He noted the concerns of the skeptics as well as the obstacles recognized by those committed to reconstruction. The president also made several references to service men and women who are fighting now just as their ancestors did 60 years earlier, and he identified the vision that President Roosevelt embraced then as the same principles the United States must pursue today.
First, President Roosevelt believed that free nations could muster the resolve to defend themselves ... Secondly, President Roosevelt believed that the call to freedom is universal," Bush said. "Third, President Roosevelt believed that free nations are peaceful nations that would not threaten America."
The speech at naval base was to be followed by a meeting with wounded military personnel and health care workers at the base's hospital. The president was also expected to do an interview with Armed Services Radio and Television Services.
Joined by first lady Laura Bush (search), the president spoke to military members as public support for the war in Iraq has reached an all time low along with the president's public approval ratings. Public approval for the war in Iraq has fallen below 40 percent in some polls. That drop comes as the death toll for U.S. military in Iraq since March 2003 rises to nearly 1,900.
The president has pledged to stay in Iraq until that nation is secure. But Iraqi security continues to be delayed as the interim National Assembly put off voting on a constitution. The draft document, criticized for being short on religious freedom and women's rights, has been rejected by some Sunni Arabs who fear that they will be overwhelmed by rival Shiites and Kurds who have access to the nation's oil wells and will have more say on what to do with Iraq's wealth.
Elsewhere in Iraq, U.S. troops launched airstrikes Tuesday along the Syrian border in an effort to slow the continuing entry of foreign fighters into the country.
With U.S. forces facing those ongoing challenges, the president has spent the last four public events discussing the progress that has taken place in Iraq and urging patience from Americans, saying the threat that would emerge if the United States withdrew early from Iraq would not be worth the sacrifice that U.S. troops have made to secure the region and prevent terror from striking again in the U.S homeland.
On Monday, Bush made back-to-back appearances in Arizona and California to discuss the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. He used the events to describe some of the more hopeful developments in Iraq and to say he was optimistic about Iraq's future.
Speaking Tuesday about devastation other than war, Bush also addressed the vast damage along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on Monday. Residents of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday were surveying the damage as state officials began widespread search and rescue operations.
"This is a trying time for people in these communities," Bush said before turning his focus to the War on Terror. "We know that many are anxious to return to their homes. It’s not possible at this moment. Right now our priority is on saving lives and we are still in the midst of search and rescue operations."
The president urged the public to follow instructions from state and local authorities who are working alongside the federal government to do all we can to help people get back on their feet, and we have got a lot of work to do ... the good folks in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other affected areas are going to need the help and compassion and prayers of our fellow citizens."
Bush reminded people they can call 1-800-HELP-NOW or log onto the American Red Cross Web site to help with donations.
When Bush departs California on Tuesday, he will return to his Crawford, Texas, ranch where pro- and anti-war demonstrators continue to protest. One mother, Cindy Sheehan (search), lost her son Casey in Iraq in April 2004 and has demanded that Bush meet with her to discuss why the United States is in Iraq. Sheehan has vowed not to leave Crawford until the president goes, and has said she will launch a three-week bus tour ending in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24.
Sheehan's vigil drew hundreds of people to Crawford to protest the war, but her comments also sparked anger from Bush supporters who have joined in near equal numbers to counter-protest and show support for the troops in Iraq and the president's mission.
As the bus tour prepared to go on Wednesday, White House aides also announced that the Bushes will leave Crawford on Wednesday, bound for Washington where the president can better track relief efforts in the south.