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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

President Bush Lays Wreath at Tomb of the Unknowns

Aired May 26, 2003 - 11:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we are awaiting President and Mrs. Bush to lay a wreath at the "Tomb of the Unknowns" at Arlington National Cemetery. Right now, it's a moment of silence, country wide, so we're going to pause again and hopefully the President and Mrs. Bush will be out momentarily.
(MUSIC)

And President Bush has just concluded the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. In case you don't know this tomb contains the remains of soldiers from the Korean War, World War II, World War I, and until recently the Vietnam War. And I say -- I say that because DNA tests identified the remains of the Vietnam troop who was buried here and he was since buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

And you're looking at the flags planted in front of the white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, something that is done every year on Memorial Day, and let me tell you, it is quite a sight, for the thousands of headstone, here, all white, all the same size all with tiny American flags planted in front of them.

Suzanne Malveaux, live at the White House, and I'm sure you've been to Arlington National Cemetery and have seen the spectacle; it's beautiful and touching, sad all at the same time.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Carol, you have veterans from the American Revolution all the way to the war on terror who are buried there.

And you might have noticed, what was quite obvious to me was the emotion on the president's face and it is quite clear, you talk to White House Aides, that was a -- it was a difficult decision that the president made, that it weighed very heavily on him before he decided that it was necessary to invade Iraq, to participate in that -- this war on terror, that is was something that he realized that, yes, there would be sacrifices that there would be made, that this would mean that American men and women would lose their lives in this war on terror and that is something that the president took very, very seriously and it's something that you can see on his face; kind of the expressions -- sometimes painful expressions that you see when he recognizes the sacrifices that those men and women have made.

We will often hear when he meets privately with the families of veterans, when he speaks to people who've lost their loved ones, just how emotional he gets at those certain times that he offers his condolences, his thanks and many times, his prayers -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And it's so important to the -- to the troops who are alive and who are attending this ceremony, today.

I want to bring in Bruce Morton, because he talked with veterans of World War II and other veterans of other wars.

How do they feel on this day?

BRUCE MORTON: Well, there's a sense, I think, that Carol, probably a little more then on other days that, what you did was special, this was -- you know, this sense of being called.

Americans, even in our most unpopular wars -- Vietnam, for instance, have always been pretty good. You know, the notice comes from the draft board and most of us get up and go. Hopefully most of us come back, that hasn't always been true. But I there's a sense of belonging to brotherhood and it comes out most strongly on Memorial Day, on this day -- the days which mourn, honor, and celebrate the sacrifice that American veterans have made in these wars.

COSTELLO: All right. We're going to wrap up this part of our coverage, at least for this part of the ceremony. We're expecting President Bush to speak, though at about 11:35 Eastern time. Of course we'll carry his remarks live.

We're going to continue now, on the Memorial Day theme because American's are marking Memorial Day 2003 with parades and remembrances in the forms of parades and other things.

CNN's Jeff Flock and Jennifer Coggiola are covering activities in two different communities.

Jeff we start with you.

He is live from Elmhurst, Illinois this morning.

Good morning.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning to you. You know, it's interesting to watch the nation's big ceremony in Washington and then go out to the grassroots. We are at just one of , literally, thousands of towns across America which is, today, marking this very special Memorial Day. Not recently so close to military action.

This Elmhurst, Illinois, it's the Chicago suburbs. Some of the most honored guests are just now being presented off behind me, and perhaps we have another camera on down the parade route where you can see, I think it's 90 different parts of this parade, out here today. And the theme today is "A Day of Remembrance in Elmhurst."

And, I'll tell you, if we are able to walk over here, Bruce follow me over here, if you will. You know, we just saw the live pictures from Arlington and there is a mini Arlington, here in Elmhurst. Take a look here, if you can see in the bright sun -- school children spent some time making these crosses. These mark each of the individuals from Elmhurst, Illinois who lost their lives in various wars and, you know, as I said this sort of thing going on all across America on this very special Memorial Day 2003 -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I like that last shot. That's so touching isn't it? Look at them. Veterans of a war, long passed. Go ahead, Jeff.

FLOCK: It is and -- it is and it's, you know, these little crosses, here, all painted -- hand painted by -- by school children. And the man that organized this parade, you know, the honored guest in this parade, here in Elmhurst, and their honored guests at parades all across the country, but it is a World War II veteran who was one of the troops from here -- from Elmhurst, Illinois, who liberated a young Elie Wiesel from Buchenwald...

COSTELLO: Wow.

FLOCK: ...and he went on to be the mayor of this town and is not 80 -- I believe it's 80 years, if I check my numbers, I think he's about 80 years old, now and still an honored guest, here in his home town of Elmhurst.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's just an awesome story. Thank you very much Jeff.

Let's go to Dacula, Georgia and Jennifer Coggiola.

Jennifer has the guest of honor passed by yet?

JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, he was right up front and that is our grand marshal, and it POW Ron Young. Certainly here, everyone was anticipating his arrival, he came through incredible applause. But this, really, is just a glimpse into a wonderful small town -- America's celebration of their veterans.

This town only has about 3,000 people, but they're estimating there are about 7,000 people here. You can see, we've got classic cars coming through. About 90 other entrants, we've had boys and girl scouts come through, we've had a marching band, we've had groups of school cheerleaders, but it really, just sort of exemplified the spirit.

I talked to a couple of veterans who said it's important for them to be here and for their children to be here. So, you can see we've got all different generations -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Definitely so, I noticed as Ron Young passed by, people cheered.

COGGIOLA: Oh, absolutely. The crowd actually went nuts; he's defiantly the man of the hour. He was supposed to come through in a Humvee, but he was actually followed by a herd of Humvees, but he was in a little convertible so that everyone could see his smiling face and reach out and give him high-fives. It was really neat to see him go by.

COSTELLO: I bet so, Jennifer many thanks to you. Live from Dacula, Georgia this morning. As I said, that we're awaiting President Bush's remarks from Arlington National Cemetery, he's to speak at the Amphitheater, there. When that occurs, of course, we'll bring it to you live. It should occur at about 11:35 Eastern time.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, also expected to speak. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: All right, I'm sorry we have to come out of that break, because as you can see President Bush is approaching the podium standing by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When he begins talking, we'll go to him, live.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux, right now, live at the White House -- Susanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Carol, we expect the president to talk about the tremendous sacrifice that men and women have made, particularly in the war on terror, talking about those who served in Afghanistan, as well as, Iraq. We also understand, of course, that the threat of terror continues in the state of orange alert for the country. The president has been talking about that, as well, that this is something that we will see in the weeks, month, and perhaps even years to come. That this is something that they are just starting to deal with here, that al Qaeda, he says, of course, the main operatives, about half of them, no longer operating, but the other half, of course, very much active and potentially able to carry out terrorist attack across the globe.

But the president, today, focusing on those who've made a commitment, those, who've sacrificed, some giving their lives for the war on terror. And the president's very much aware of what it meant to actually put those Americans in harms way when he made that decision, it was something that you -- that you cannot forget, when he actually talked about it, and when he talked about with White House aides, as well, just how serious he took that decision. What he knew -- he knew what it meant and of course, this is an emotional time for the president. One person who I spoke with this morning, who is very familiar with his speech says that the underlining theme, here, is that Memorial Day, of course, an emotional day for Americans every year, but this particular year, even more so, because so many people have lost their lives, but again, not as bad as many have thought.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, also going to be speaking. And many in the military at the Pentagon, feeling that it was quite a victory -- quite a success when you consider just how few Americans were lost in this war on terror. Of course, not to downplay the significance of any one life being lost, but just how few, that the numbers could have been much high -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, is it unusual that the Secretary of Defense introduce the president at this sort of ceremony?

MALVEAUX: I don't think it's unusual. As you know, this is a tradition every year that the president lays the wreath to the Tomb of the Unknowns but this is something, of course, that president's administration sees as a very special moment -- as a poignant moment, simply because of what the country has gone through over the last several months and the fact that there was such a build up to this -- to this war on terror inside of Iraq, but also the fact that many Americans recall -- remember September 11, that this has been a difficult time, a trying time for this administration and also for this country. But, it is very clear that the president on many occasions, really using the bully pulpit to -- to bolster and encourage a sense of hope, as sense of faith among Americans that -- yes, he believes that it can conquer this, that they can combat terrorism and that's it's going to be something, however, that is going to be difficult and it's going to take a lot of sacrifice, a lot of time -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It's hard to gauge who is more popular among the military. Is it Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or President Bush?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's hard to say, of course, you know they have very different personalities and Secretary Rumsfeld, known for many of his remarks across the globe, really. Some that have work in the favor of the administration, others that were seen by some of his critics as not as diplomatic. The president, of course, trying to win international support for this war on terror. That is something that he has been working hard on. And as you know, Carol, a big test of the administration's credibility is going to be just how this Middle East peace comes along -- this road map and a lot of pressure from European allies, as well as, democrats, here, and many leaders that want the president to get directly involved in that process. They see it as a test of credibility -- can this administration translate -- transfer some of that power inside of Iraq and developing peace in that region, can they bring that to the table when it comes to bring Palestinians and Israelis together.

You know, Carol, a lot of challenges for this administration and a lot of unfinished business, not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, as well -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yeah, well there was one big positive when Israel decided to accept the road map to peace -- endorse it, I should say. And agree to the creation of a Palestinian state, that's a big deal.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, Carol, it is a huge deal. This is the first time that you've had an Israeli administration and the cabinet, you noted, voted on that just yesterday, that they would move forward -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's listen to the prayer, now.

COL. HAROLD RAY, U.S. AIR FORCE CHAPLAIN: A day that we rise from our slumber in freedom. We acknowledge that the freedom, peace, and justice in our nation did not come without the ultimate sacrifice of many soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. Yet it will not continue unless military members of today stand ready to defend our way of life.

On this Memorial Day, we gather to remember and never, never forget, the men and women whose lives were offered up on behalf of our nation. A nation born of faith and courage and struggle. A nation whose people cherish freedom and liberty more than life. A nation who has not detoured from its principle of "In God We Trust." May the words spoken today find a living place in our hearts. We pray that all Americans cherish the legacy of their birthright and dedicate their lives to the ideals which so many paid the supreme price. And may this Memorial Day be a torch that burns deeply in our memory and brightly in our future. Amen.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, Major General Jackson.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES T. JACKSON, U.S. ARMY: Well, thank you and after -- or good morning and looks like we can hold off on the rain for awhile.

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, General Myers, other distinguished guests, families and friends, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Mr. Metzler, our superintendent and his staff, and all my civilian staff, I welcome you back to Arlington National Cemetery.

As Arlington is a working cemetery conducting in excess of 20 funerals a day, our numbers have increases since our last Memorial Day. And sadly, this year, we have added casualty from both Afghanistan and Iraq. In keeping with the original purpose of Memorial Day, I believe that we are here for two purposes. First to remember those that have sacrificed their lives in the service of our great nation, and second, to be thankful that our country continues to produce men and women willing to make this kind of commitment.

Your attendance, here today, is important. And I believe that it will reflect well on you as individuals and on us as a nation. But more importantly, it renders honors to those that truly deserve it. Thank you again for sharing part of your weekend with us and helping us to recognize the true meaning of Memorial Day 2003.

God bless all of you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and Gentlemen, General Myers.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and Mrs. Rumsfeld, to all our distinguished guests and all gathered here, today we gather to honor those who died in the service of their country.

As we remember these brave Americans who sacrificed their futures to protect ours, I'm reminded of the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, who said, "Freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved."

We recall that the achievement of those who proceeded us secured the liberties that we enjoy today. And as I view this landscape covered by memorials on this day of remembrance, I know that each is etched with far too few words to fairly record the life of the man or woman resting there. From this vantage, the markers are anonymous standing exposed to the weather, eternal reminders of honor and sacrifice. Yet, I also know that beneath each lies a patriot, an individual who believes strongly enough, who traded their safety and comfort for ours.

And in many foreign lands, there, too, rest America's fallen. Some places are marked with names or symbols of faith, some are not marked, lost at sea or lost in time.

But today, we remember them all for their commitment to a simple belief, and that is that freedom must be achieved.

So today let's honor our fallen, and let's resolve to vigorously protect America's future and secure in their name our precious freedoms for tomorrow's generation.

May God bless the men and women of our armed forces.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Rumsfeld.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, my colleague, Secretary Principi, Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Senator Pryor, Senator Dole, thank you for being with us.

General Myers and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we thank you so much for your truly outstanding service to our country.

Distinguished guests, families of those heroes remembered here today, our hearts and prayers are with you.

Veterans, thank you so much for your distinguished service.

Men and women of the armed services and ladies and gentlemen, beyond this amphitheater in a garden of graceful white headstones lie the heroes of our heritage. They came from every corner of America, from every walk of life, each different, each an individual who made a choice. Yet all shared the same dream of freedom that gave birth to our nation and that has carried the light of liberty to literally millions all across the globe.

We're surrounded by their monuments. But also by their dreams, their dreams for America, that it would remain a bastion of freedom and a beacon of hope. Dreams for the world that men would learn to live in harmony and in peace and their dreams for themselves, their families, and their future. Dreams that is they did not live to see come true.

And so, we come each year to this place to celebrate their memory and to honor their sacrifice. It's appropriate that we do so, for only by remembering how great their sacrifice can we fully appreciate the value they placed on freedom.

Today, we face new threats to our freedom. They will be met with the same courage, the same commitment and like the foes of times passed, they, too, will be defeated. This is our pledge to the men and women who have gone before, our responsibility to our children and their children and to all who follow. And it is the promise of our president who has vowed that no act of terror will change our purpose, weaken our resolve or alter their faith.

Mr. President, we thank you for the courage and the clarity of your leadership. We will press on.

We will prevail because our people are strong, our forces are the finest on the face of the Earth and because we share fully your commitment to the security and the future of the American people.

Veterans, men and women of the armed forces, ladies and gentlemen, it's my great honor and privilege to introduce our commander in chief, George W. Bush, president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you all.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you all very much for the warm welcome.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your leadership.

Secretary Principi, members of the United States Congress, General Myers, members of the Joint Chiefs, General Jackson and Colonel Ray and Colonel Steedley (ph), veterans, honored guests and my fellow Americans, we come to this Memorial Day with deep awareness of recent loss and recent courage. Beyond the Tomb of the Unknowns in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery, we have laid to rest Americans who fell in the battle of Iraq.

One of the funerals was for Marine 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Pourkeny, Jr. of Jacksonville, North Carolina. His wife, Carolyn (ph), received a folded flag. His 2-year-old daughter, Taylor (ph), knelt beside her mother at the casket to say a final good-bye. And uncle later said of this fine lieutenant, "He was proud of what he was doing and proud of his family. A hard-working guy. The best guy you can ever know. I hope the American people don't forget."

This nation does not forget. Last month, in Section 60, 1st Lieutenant Rob Jenkins (ph) was buried along with five other members of a bomber crew. They were lost when their plane was shot down over North Africa.

In 1942. Rob Jenkins had joined the Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor, and he was 20 years old on his final mission. Six decades later, his plane was found and the remains of the crew were carefully identified, returned home and buried with military honors.

Rob's sister, Helen, said, "We were very proud that the government would care that much. After all, it was such a long time ago."

This nation does not forget.

(APPLAUSE)

On Memorial Day, Americans place flags on military graves, walk past a wall of black granite in Washington, D.C., and many families think of a face and voice they miss so much.

Today, we honor the men and women who have worn the nation's uniform and were last seen on duty from the battles of Iraq and Afghanistan to the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam to the trials of world war, to the struggles that made us a nation.

Today, we recall that liberty is always the achievement of courage. And today, we remember all who have died, all who are still missing and all who mourn. And on this day especially our nation is grateful to the brave and fallen defenders of freedom.

In every generation of Americans we have found courage equal to the tasks of our country. The farms and small towns and city streets of this land have always produced free citizens who assume the discipline and duty of military life. And time after time, they have proven that the moral force of democracy is mightier than the will and cunning of any tyrant.

The wit of one of our Marines in Iraq made this point very simply: "There is good and evil in the world," he said. "That's what's going on." And he was the good.

All the good people we honor today were willing to die in the service of our country and our cause, yet all of them wanted to live. And the images they carried with them at the end were the people they loved and the familiar sights of home.

Not long before his death last month, Army Captain James Attamowski (ph) of Springfield, Virginia, wrote this to his wife, Meagan: "I do my job 110 percent and don't get distracted or discouraged when I'm out flying on missions. However, when I have some downtime and get to really thinking, I realize that for all the good things we're doing here, I just plain miss you.

In his last letter home from the Middle East, Staff Sergeant Lincoln Hollings (ph), of Molden (ph), Illinois, said how much he appreciated getting mail from his family. He added, "I wish my truck and boat knew how to write.

(LAUGHTER)

"I sure do miss 'em."

(LAUGHTER)

He went on, "Today would be a beautiful fishing day. I can see it now: drop my electronic anchors, kick my feet up, three poles out with hooks in search for that elusive, yet lovable catfish."

Americans like these did not fight for glory, but to fulfill a duty. They did not yearn to be heroes. They yearned to see mom and dad again and hold their sweethearts and watch their sons and daughters grow. They wanted the daily miracle of freedom in America. But they gave all that up and gave life itself for the sake of others.

Their sacrifice was great, but not in vain. All Americans and every free nation on Earth can trace their liberty to the white markers of places like Arlington National Cemetery, and may God keep us ever grateful.

(APPLAUSE)

Almost seven weeks ago an Army Ranger, Capt. Russell Rippetoe was laid to rest in Section 60. Capt. Rippetoe's father, Joe, a retired lieutenant colonel, gave a farewell salute at the grave of his only son. Russell Rippetoe served with distinction in Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning both the bronze star and the purple heart.

On the back of his dog tag were engraved these words from the Book of Joshua: "Have not have I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy god is with thee."

This faithful Army captain has joined a noble company of service and sacrifice gathered row by row. These men and women were strong and courageous and not dismayed. And we pray they have found their peace in the arms of God.

May God bless America.

COSTELLO: And the president wrapping up his remarks from Arlington National Cemetery, slapping Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the leg. Donald Rumsfeld thanking the commander in chief for his courage and clarity of leadership, and President Bush honoring those who died in the line of duty on this Memorial Day.

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