President Bush honored America's military as the celebration of his second inauguration began in Washington.

Thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines packed a sports arena near the White House.  With their families at their side, they cheered their commander-in-chief.  He returned their salute.

"Each of you has stepped forward to serve,? said Mr. Bush.  ?You have risked your lives in far away mountains and arid deserts, in perilous skies and on the high seas to defend liberty and to free those trapped by tyranny."

White House officials said it was only fitting to launch days of inauguration ceremonies and celebration with an event honoring U.S. military personnel.

This one featured music, tributes to the individual branches of the military, and readings from letters written by members of the armed forces - past and present.

?September 3rd, 1944...dear mother and dad? yesterday was a day that will long stay in my memory,?  said former President George H. W. Bush as he read a letter he had written home as a young pilot serving in WWII.

The current president looked on as his father spoke, and later offered his own thanks to all who have served, particularly those now on duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous, but we can proceed with courage and confidence,? said President Bush.  ?History moves toward freedom because the desire for freedom is in every human heart. And the cause of freedom is in the best of hands - the hands of the United States armed forces."

Military personnel will play a prominent role in this inauguration.   In addition to this event, a special inaugural ball is planned for members of the armed services.  They will also be much on view marching in the inaugural parade, and helping to provide security as the president takes the oath of office for a second term on Thursday.