Local News

Bush Comforts Families Of War Dead, Cheered By Marines

Posted April 3, 2003 11:05 a.m. EST

— At a military base hard hit by combat deaths, President Bush shed tears Thursday with relatives of Marines killed in Iraq and told one man's family, "He's in heaven."

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

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

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

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

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

Bush talked with the families after a speech to troops and a mess hall lunch. Some 12,000 camouflage-clad Marines and 8,000 more family members and friends spilled out from a temporary stadium into a green field named in honor of Marines who have died. The field was ringed with tanks, allowing several Marines to climb higher 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 forces half a world away were fighting on the outskirts of Baghdad.

"A vise is closing," Bush said, "and the days of a brutal regime 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 about a quick takeover of the Iraqi capital and a collapse of Saddam Hussein's government. Bush foresaw a clear finish, whatever the timetable.

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

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

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

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

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

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