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Bush Comforts Families Of War Dead, Cheered By Marines

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CMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — At a military base hard hit by combatdeaths, President Bush shed tears Thursday with relatives ofMarines killed in Iraq and told one man's family, "He's inheaven."

Bush and his wife Laura met in a chapel annex with about 20family members of five Camp Lejeune-based Marines killed in Iraq.The base has lost more troops in Iraq - at least 13 killed - thanany other military installation. Six more are missing.

Among the grieving families were several small children who losttheir fathers, including 6-week-old twin girls and a 2-week-oldbaby. Some relatives wore lapel pictures of their lost Marine. Themeeting was private, but a senior White House official described itafterward. The names of the families were withheld.

"He loved being a Marine," Bush was told. "He loved hiscountry." "He was proud to serve."

A teary-eyed Bush assured the families, "The world will be morepeaceful" and "I'm proud of you."

It was Bush's first meeting with relatives of slain troops sincethe war began two weeks ago.

Bush talked with the families after a speech to troops and amess hall lunch. Some 12,000 camouflage-clad Marines and 8,000 morefamily members and friends spilled out from a temporary stadiuminto a green field named in honor of Marines who have died. Thefield was ringed with tanks, allowing several Marines to climbhigher for a better view.

Bush said the array of troops was a fine sight unless, he joked,"you happen to be a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard."

As he spoke under a cloudless North Carolina sky, allied forceshalf a world away were fighting on the outskirts of Baghdad.

"A vise is closing," Bush said, "and the days of a brutalregime are coming to an end."

Bush's comments hit home with the Marine Corps' family.

"I means a lot to me, supporting my friends who are over there now. I wish I could be with them," said Pvt. Juan Rosello.

"I thought his speech will definitely boost the morale," said Angela Bell, a Marine spouse. "I think it shows that he truly cares and that he took the time to come out here and I think it meant a lot for the people around here."

Some military commanders have sought to lower expectations abouta quick takeover of the Iraqi capital and a collapse of SaddamHussein's government. Bush foresaw a clear finish, whatever thetimetable.

"Having traveled hundreds of miles, we will now go the last 200yards," he said. "The course is set. We're on the advance. Ourdestination is Baghdad. And we will accept nothing less thancomplete and final victory."

His remarks were greeted by repeated, deafening roars ofapproval, none louder than when he ended his speech with "SemperFi" - the Marine Corps motto, which is Latin for "always faithful."

"There's a tradition in the Corps that no one who falls will beleft behind in the battlefield," Bush said. "Our country has atradition as well. No one who falls will be forgotten by thisgrateful nation."

Some in the audience had hoped for more specific informationabout the war's timeline from the commander in chief than hispronouncement that "what we have begun, we will finish."

Nineteen-year-old Nikki Sweet, whose husband, Lance Cpl. JustinSweet, has been away for the past six months - came from St.Petersburg, Fla., with friends but didn't hear what she wanted. "Ijust want him to come home. That's all I want," she said of herhusband. "I just hope it's not much longer."

Lance Cpl. Clark Moiles listened intently, and was left longingto join the troops overseas. "I wish I could be there," he said."I don't feel like I'm really doing my job."

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