Americans are celebrating their Independence Day holiday Tuesday across the United States. President Bush was on the road, showing his support for U.S. troops.
On a sweltering Fourth of July the presidential jet, Air Force One, touched down near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
President Bush told the waiting military personnel and their families it was the perfect place to celebrate Independence Day. "Today we mark the 230th anniversary of American independence. And on this day when we give thanks for our freedom, we also give thanks for the men and women who make our freedom possible," he said.
An estimated 3,500 troops gathered in the heat for the outdoor speech. The president, the back of his shirt stained with sweat, told them they are following in the tradition of the citizen-soldiers who fought for America's freedom. "You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America," he said.
Mr. Bush said their dedication and sacrifice is key to victory in the war on terrorism. He said there have been signs of progress amidst the ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. He cited the recent death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and a series of raids that he said have dealt a severe blow to the insurgents.
The president did not indicate these positive signs might lead to a drop in U.S. troop levels in Iraq. But he did stress once again that setting a timetable for withdrawals would be a big mistake. "This moment when the terrorists are suffering from a wave of successive blows is not the time to call retreat. We will stay, we will fight and we will prevail," he said.
Mr. Bush paused to pay tribute to the more than 2,500 American troops who have died in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003, stressing the fight must continue. "I am not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done," he said.
The president remained at Fort Bragg for a holiday lunch with members of an Army combat brigade, before heading back to Washington to see the national fireworks display.
About half a million people are expected to gather in the nation's capital for the event. Mr. Bush will watch along with family and friends gathered at the White House for an early birthday party. The president turns 60 on Thursday.