Bush praises 'fierce courage' of US soldiers in Memorial Day speech

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The Independent US

President George Bush praised the "fierce courage" of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday on a Memorial Day that followed another weekend of fighting in Iraq and the deaths of four United States servicemen.

President George Bush praised the "fierce courage" of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday on a Memorial Day that followed another weekend of fighting in Iraq and the deaths of four United States servicemen.

Under a misty and rainy sky, Mr Bush laid the traditional wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, one of many ceremonies across America honouring the dead of many wars.

This year's ceremonies coincide with two high profile events, the opening of a new Second World War memorial on Washington's National Mall, and the weekend's 60th anniversary of the June 1944 D-Day landings. But Mr Bush also referred to therecent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform in places like Kabul and Kandahar, in Mosul and Baghdad," the President told a crowd of several hundred people, mostly military personnel and their families. "Because of their fierce courage, America is safer. Two terror regimes are gone for ever and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom."

But the price of the war in Iraq grows higher by the day, both in terms of Mr Bush's popularity and of American and Iraqi lives. The latest US casualties came in Baghdad, Mosul, and in the holy city of Kufa. The Pentagon says 810 American servicemen have died in Iraq since the invasion, 672 of them since Mr Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on 1 May 2003.

Earlier Senator John Kerry, Mr Bush's opponent in November's presidential election and a decorated Vietnam war veteran, paid an early morning visit to the Vietnam war memorial in Washington.

He then attended a Memorial Day ceremony in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Democrat strategists believe that Mr Kerry's military record, coupled with recent population shifts, gives the party a chance of carrying traditionally Republican Virginia for the first time since 1964.

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