Thousands of veterans from the Second World War have gathered in Washington for the dedication of a monument to those who served in the conflict. President Bush says it is a fitting tribute to the 16 million Americans who took part.

The new memorial stands at the center of the nation's capital with two tall granite arches representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of battle.

Four thousand gold stars mark the more than 400,000 American lives lost in the conflict. Below the stars an inscription reads, here we mark the price of freedom.

In dedicating the monument, President Bush heralded the sacrifices of what has come to be known as America's Greatest Generation, including the service of his own father, the former president George Herbert Walker Bush, who was shot down as a Navy pilot.

"These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them Dad. They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted," he said.

The president and his father were joined at the dedication by former President Bill Clinton and former Senator Bob Dole, a World War II veteran who was instrumental in raising private donations for the $175-million project.

President Bush says the conflict changed American society by bringing women into the wartime workforce and by lowering barriers to African-Americans and other minorities.

"In time, these contributions became expectations of equality and the advances for justice in post-war America made us a better country," he said.

Retired Air Force Colonel Charles McGee served with the all-Black Tuskegee Airmen, who served with distinction and broke down many of the barriers to racial equality in the military.

"We destroyed the myths and biases that had been behind the policies, particularly the military's. So, after looking at the record, it took the military to begin to lead the country and to providing equal opportunity for all, and let their performance be the measure, and not their happenstance of birth or color of skin," he said.

Organizers included medical tents at the ceremonies in case any of the aging veterans fell ill. More than 1,000 American veterans of World War Two die each day. Only about four million of the 16 million veterans who served are still living.

Frank Hayden, 82, was a 22-year-old seaman during the allied invasion of France. He told NBC television that the monument is a place to remember his comrades who didn't return.

"For the ones who didn't come back, and we're here representing them now," he said.

In the coming week, President Bush travels to Europe where he will continue to mark the lessons of the Second World War with ceremonies in Italy, England, and France before returning to America to host a summit of the world's leading industrialized nations.