WASHINGTON – President Bush laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery on Monday, carrying on a tradition that has been held every Memorial Day for the past 138 years. He said afterward that fallen soldiers have died for a worthy cause.
"In this place where valor sleeps, we find strength in knowing that those who served in freedom's cause have acted with principle and steadfast faith," Bush told veterans and their families.
"Here in the presence of veterans they fought with and loved ones whose pictures they carried, the fallen give silent witness to the price of our liberty, and our nation honors them this day and every day," he said.
Monday's ceremonies mark the fifth Memorial Day in a row that the country has been fighting a War on Terror, with military members confronting combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush said the ceremony is a chance for Americans to express their appreciation for those who have sacrificed their lives in the quest for freedom around the world.
"The markers here record the names of more than 296,000 men and women. Each of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines buried here answered the call to serve and stepped forward to protect the nation they love. All who are buried here understood their duty — they saw a dark shadow on the horizon and went to meet it. They understood that tyranny must be met with resolve and liberty is always the achievement of courage," Bush said.
Pace said that combat soldiers have physical fear but that fear is overcome by a greater fear — that they won't live up to the Armed Forces who share the duty beside them or who served and sacrificed before them.
"Those of us who have the privilege of wearing the uniform today rededicate ourselves in their memory, that we might carry on the great legacy and tradition they have passed to us," Pace said.
Rumsfeld added that the country has again been called to the "great task of freedom's defense" and renewed strength comes from those being remembered on this day.
"In their memory, and in tribute to what they died for and what they lived for, let us renew our resolve, let us be proud that America has again answered history's high call," Rumsfeld said.
Prior to the wreath-laying, the president signed two measures designed to help military members and preserve the dignity of memorial services.
The Hero Act signed by the president allows wages designated as combat hazard pay to be eligible for IRA contributions and other retirement accounts without tax penalty. The second measure also prohibits unauthorized demonstrations at national cemeteries within an hour before or after a funeral or memorial service.
Such demonstrations have been held at military funerals around the nation by a group that has insisted that the deaths are a sign that God is angry about tolerance of homosexuals in this country.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised Bush for signing the bill, which bans demonstrations within 150 feet of entrances or exits of national cemetery property without prior approval or within 300 feet for other demonstrations. Violators are subject to fines and up to a year in prison.
“Unfortunately, some have recently used the occasion of military funerals to express hateful opinions in complete disregard of grieving families. I’m pleased the president has acted so quickly to sign this bill so that we can ensure families are able to honor their heroic loved ones in peace and with the dignity they deserve," Frist said in a statement.
Monday's observance at Arlington National Cemetery was not a funeral, and demonstrators on outside there spoke their minds through protest.
Supporters of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church and its leader Rev. Fred Phelps stood across a four-lane highway as people headed toward the national burial grounds. They held an anti-gay protest outside a military funeral as recently as Saturday.
Another group of about 10 people from the Washington, D.C., chapter of Free Republic, a self-styled grass roots conservative group, held signs at the entrance of the cemetery supporting U.S. troops. A large sign held by several people said, "God bless our troops, defenders of freedom, American heroes."
Earlier in the Memorial Day weekend, Bush gave the commencement address at West Point, the U.S. military academy that graduated 800 cadets this year. Bush noted that the graduating class is the first to have entered the school after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Around the country, Americans were attending parades and ceremonies to honor the nation's war dead while most are attending barbecues and beaches on this national holiday.
On Sunday, other ceremonies were held to commemorate the nation's Armed Services. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg marched in a parade in Queens with veterans and current military personnel.
In Minnesota, a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps was conducted at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. On Monday, women veterans were being honored at the same location.
And in New Orleans, parts of the Chalmette National Cemetery re-opened to pay tribute to veterans who lost their lives while serving the country. The cemetery had been closed since Hurricane Katrina hit last August.
FOX News' Greg Kelly and Kelly Chernenkoff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.