President Bush is headed to America's Pacific coast, where he will deliver a nationally broadcast address on Iraq. He will declare combat is over, but stop short of a formal declaration of victory.
The USS Abraham Lincoln will provide the backdrop for the president's address as it nears the end of its journey home from the war zone.
Mr. Bush will speak from the deck of the carrier as it makes its way to the port of San Diego, California and ultimately its home base in Washington state.
Aides describe the speech as a companion to the address delivered by the president just six weeks ago, which marked the start of the war in Iraq. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer calls it "an important moment." He notes the president will try to provide the nation with a sense of a mission accomplished while acknowledging that some dangers remain.
The White House clearly wants to give the public a sense of closure, with scenes of the president on the deck of the carrier surrounded by 5,000 returning sailors and marines. They indicate Mr. Bush will not declare a formal end to the war because that would trigger certain legal obligations under the Geneva Convention that could effect ongoing security efforts, and the search for members of the ousted Iraqi regime.
The president will arrive on the carrier in a most unusual way. Since it will be too far from port to use a helicopter, he will land on the deck in a small fixed-wing plane. Cables stretched across the deck will catch the plane and bring it to a quick stop. Military officials say it will be an exciting landing, but not a risky one, and add it is a routine maneuver for carrier pilots.
After his speech, the president will spend the night on the aircraft carrier. He will leave the next morning, this time by helicopter, before it reaches port.
His last event before heading to the west coast was a ceremony at the White House marking the National Day of Prayer. The president spoke of the importance of faith in trying times, and said recent weeks have been a period of intense prayer for the American people. "Americans have been praying for the safety of our troops and for the protection of innocent life in Iraq," said President Bush. "Americans prayed that war would not be necessary and now pray that peace will be just and lasting."
Mr. Bush said the nation continues to pray for the recovery of the wounded, and for all those who lost loved ones in the war. "To pray for someone else is an act of generosity," he said. "We turn our own cares aside and look to strengthen another. Prayer teaches humility. We find that the plan of the Creator is sometimes very different from our own. Yet we learn to depend on His loving will, bowing to purposes we don't always understand."
The National Day of Prayer is held each year on the first Thursday in May. President Harry Truman declared the first official National Day of Prayer which celebrates all faiths in 1952.