ARLINGTON, Va. – President Bush (search) paused on Veterans Day (search) to honor the "hidden heroes" in America's military who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency and in wars past. He also paid tribute to soldiers he said are waging a winning battle against insurgents west of Baghdad.
"Some of tomorrow's veterans are in combat in Iraq at this hour," Bush said Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns (search).
"They have a clear mission: to defeat the terrorists and aid the rise of a free government that can defend itself. They are making us proud," Bush added. "They are winning."
As Bush spoke, U.S. soldiers and Marines opened a second phase in an offensive against insurgents in the southern half of Fallujah that has sent a stream of American wounded to the U.S. military's main hospital in Europe. Planes carrying around 90 injured troops were expected Thursday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. They join 125 wounded soldiers flown there already this week.
The military, which is trying to squeeze Sunni Muslim (search) fighters into a smaller cordon of the city, estimated that 600 insurgents have been killed in the assault thus far, but acknowledged success in the city won't break Iraq's insurgency.
There are about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, up several thousand from a few weeks ago. As the Iraq war nears the two-year mark, the U.S. military death toll there stands at more than 1,140.
Joining Bush at the ceremony were his wife, Laura, and several members of his Cabinet. His motorcade entered the grounds of the vast cemetery, where more than 260,000 military dead are buried, through a phalanx of bayonet-wielding honor guard members and to the sounds of cannon blasts.
"Twenty-five million veterans walk among us and, on this day, our nation thanks them all," he said in a somber address. "These are the hidden heroes of a peaceful nation."
Honoring particularly those who have died, Bush said their sacrifice has made America the "greatest force for good" among the nations of the world.
"Our whole nation honors every patriot who placed duty and country before their own lives," the president said. "They gave us every day that we live in freedom."
Earlier Thursday, Bush held a private reception on the State Floor of the White House with veterans, leaders of veterans organizations and Medal of Honor recipients.