Bush praises Oklahoma City as he dedicates bombing museum
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (CNN) -- President Bush, speaking Monday at the dedication ceremony for a museum and interactive media center commemorating the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said all Americans must remember the goodness of what was lost to that fearful terrorist act.
"The time of mourning has passed, but the time of remembering will never pass," Bush told the citizens of Oklahoma City.
"Your loss was great, and your pain was deep. Far greater and deeper was your care for one another, and that is what brings us back to this place today," Bush said.
Bush arrived in Oklahoma late in the morning Monday to begin his work week by dedicating the Oklahoma City facility, dedicated to the 168 victims of the most lethal terrorist act ever carried out on U.S. soil, the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Air Force One, bearing the president and his wife Laura, touched down at Tinker Air Force base Monday morning after, the two spent a quiet weekend at their ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bush marked his first Presidents Day as the nation's chief executive by paying his respects to the bombing victims three months before the convicted perpetrator of the bombing, Timothy McVeigh, is to be put to death.
The new Oklahoma City National Memorial Center, a monument to the April 19, 1995, tragedy, stands just a few yards away from the site of the Murrah building, the remnants of which were demolished some months after the attack.
"A lot of Americans are going to come and be better people for coming and walking through this center," Bush said.
The museum seeks to capture the sense of frenzied panic after a powerful truck bomb exploded at 9:02 a.m. a short distance from the building's day care center. Some 19 children were killed in the attack.
Visitors can actually hear the bomb blow up -- courtesy of an audiotape from a water resources board meeting in session across the street.
They can also see personal effects of the victims: car keys, watches, a brown leather briefcase, the pink-and-white sneaker of a 4-year-old girl, as well as window blinds, file cabinets and concrete mangled by the blast.
Congress approved $5 million to create the museum. It will be maintained through endowments, membership dues and admission fees.
The visit sets a somber start to a week that Bush otherwise is devoting to some of his top priorities, education and taxes.
Bush has scheduled visits this week to Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee to lay the groundwork for budget and tax-cutting proposals he will present to Congress on February 27.
Republican lawmakers warned last week that Bush's $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan was in trouble. Polls show that Americans favor tax cuts, but do not want the reductions to come at the expense of popular government actions, such as school dollars and reducing the debt.
Democrats argue that Bush's tax-cut plan would increase the debt and threaten government programs. Bush's goal is to show Americans that it is possible to have both a steep tax cut and increased funding for education.
He also will spend time promoting his education ideas. Bush wants to mandate annual testing to better track student performance in third through eighth grades. He would pull federal funding for public schools that fail to meet certain academic performance standards after three consecutive years, allowing the students in those schools to take up a share of federal dollars for use toward an alternative school.
On Tuesday, Bush will go to Columbus, Ohio, for a round-table discussion about his education plan at Sullivant Elementary, a school that serves many homeless children and focuses on improving the academic scores of its students.
School officials said 31 percent of Sullivant's fourth-graders passed the reading portion of last year's proficiency test, up from 27 percent the year before, and 58 percent passed the writing test, up from 42 percent.
Bush was paying a similar school visit later Tuesday in St. Louis, and staying overnight there. Among the lawmakers joining Bush will be Rep. Bill Clay, D-Missouri., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The White House had to apologize to another caucus member, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia -- a member of the House Armed Services Committee who was not invited along on Bush's visit to a military base in her state last week.
On Wednesday, Bush will visit Townsend Elementary School in Knoxville, Tennessee, before returning to Washington. At week's end, he will have his first face-to-face session with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
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