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Veterans Day events follow contentious election

Bush: 'On this day, our nation thanks them all'

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CNN's Soledad O'Brien talks with Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi.

• Smithsonian:  Honoring veterans
• Issues:  Defense and the vote
Veterans Day
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
Military Service

(CNN) -- With the nation observing another Veterans Day, men and women in armed forces and their loved ones may remember 2004 as a particularly trying year.

Veterans' issues took on a political edge during the presidential battle, with Sen. John Kerry campaigning on his service in Vietnam and critics challenging President Bush's record with the Texas Air National Guard.

Amid furiously debated military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, each candidate claimed the high road in asking for veterans' support in time of war. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the issue of defense)

On Thursday, Bush, little more than a week past his re-election victory, visited Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia for the traditional ceremony of a presidential wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and remarks in the cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater.

"Veterans Day is set aside to remember every man and woman who has taken up arms to defend our country. We honor every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman who gave some of the best years of their lives to the service of the United States and stood ready to give life itself on our behalf," Bush said.

"Twenty-five million military veterans walk among us. And on this day, our nation thanks them all."

The men and women who have served and are serving in Iraq, he said, dethroned "a tyrant who now sits in a prison cell; all who have served in this cause are liberators.

"The uniform of the United States has always stood for courage, decency and shining hope." (Today in Iraq)

In Washington, a new exhibit has opened in honor of Americans' sacrifices for freedom during conflicts that span the nation's history. (Gallery: Images from the Smithsonian exhibit)

That display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is called "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War." (Smithsonian exhibit honors vets from Revolution to now)

In many parts of the country, memorial events are scheduled and under way.

Election controversies

And this year, issues faced by veterans have been mixed with the political tensions of months past.

There was controversy over the benefits afforded to servicemen and women, with an October report by the Physicians for a National Health Program contending that nearly 1.7 million vets have no health insurance or access to government hospitals and clinics.

Also, there were bitter positions taken about which presidential candidate best supported American troops.

Part of the Democratic campaign strategy emphasized Kerry's record as a decorated veteran. In turn, independently funded 527 groups mounted campaign ads that questioned the candidate's service and testimony before a Senate committee as a Vietnam-era veteran speaking out against U.S. policy in that conflict.

And there was controversy over Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, with critics saying that he had not fulfilled all his service commitments but had escaped scrutiny as the son from a wealthy family with connections.


Among the memorials planned for Thursday in the nation's capital:

  • A Defense Department World War II commemoration wreath laying is set at the World War II Memorial.
  • A wreath laying is planned at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
  • A special U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division Association wreath-laying ceremony also is scheduled at the World War II Memorial.

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