Bush marks Memorial Day 'where valor sleeps'
President Bush lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States honored its military dead Monday with speeches from its politicians, parades led by its heroes and outdoor celebrations featuring family and food.
President Bush made the trip across the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and said "the best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made."
"On this Memorial Day," he said, "we look out on quiet hills and rows of white headstones, and we know that we are in the presence of greatness.
"The markers here record the names of more than 296,000 men and women. Each of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines buried here answered the call to serve and stepped forward to protect the nation they loved." (Watch Bush pay tribute to fallen heroes -- 2:30)
Those numbers, he noted, included more than 270 of the men and women who have died in service to the country since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
"In this place where valor sleeps, we find strength in knowing that those serving freedom's cause have acted with principles and steadfast faith," the president said.
"Our nation is free because of brave Americans like these who volunteer to confront our adversaries abroad so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said.
Bush said the nation "will honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, by advancing the cause of liberty and by laying the foundation of peace for a generation of young Americans." (Watch Bush lay wreath during solemn ceremony -- 4:50)
Before the cemetery ceremony, Bush signed into law a bill blocking protesters from disrupting military funerals, a measure prompted by the actions of Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.
Members of the church protested outside Arlington on Monday. Across the street, a small group carried signs that said "Thank God for IEDs," "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags."
The church gained notoriety for protesting the funerals of gay people and people who died of AIDS before moving on to the funerals of U.S. troops, claiming the troops were defending a godless country that promotes homosexuality.
The solemnity of the day also found a home at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, where the names of four more Americans killed in the conflict were officially added.
"Whatever your politics, the lessons of Vietnam and the wall are very clear: Make sure you do everything to avoid sending our servicemen and women to foreign soil," said Vietnam veteran William Frank. "But if they are sent and when they are in harm's way, do everything, everything to support them and let them do their mission.
"And when that mission is complete, get them home as soon as possible. And finally, when they do come home, respect and honor them and thank them and do not forget them."
Six hundred veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan joined the capital's Memorial Day parade, one of dozens across the country. In Washington, seven recipients of the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest award for valor in combat -- participated in the parade.
New Orleans marked the day with a different type of ceremony, with a gathering in the Lower 9th Ward to honor the 1,557 people who died in last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina.
And, as every year, Americans marked the traditional start of the summer season -- three weeks before the calendar says the season begins -- by gathering the family to fire up grills and head out for picnics.
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