By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007
MARTINSBURG, W.Va., July 4 -- President Bush warned Wednesday that the Iraq war "will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice," as he appealed to a war-weary public for time and sought to link today's conflict to the storied battles that gave birth to the nation.
In an Independence Day address before members of the National Guard and their families, the president again painted a dire portrait of the consequences of pulling out of Iraq, asserting as he has before that "terrorists and extremists" would try to strike inside the United States.
"If we were to quit Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists we are fighting would not declare victory and lay down their arms. They would follow us here, home," Bush told a crowd of about 1,000 gathered at a West Virginia Air National Guard maintenance hangar.
Bush's two-hour trip to West Virginia came as he faces growing pressure, including from some senior Republicans on Capitol Hill, to draw down U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush showed little sign of backing down Wednesday. He urged the American public to be patient, saying he will not withdraw troops "prematurely based on politics."
"We must succeed for our sake. For the security of our citizens, we must support the Iraqi government and we must defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq," said Bush, who will turn 61 on Friday.
The president, who was accompanied by senior adviser Karl Rove, began his remarks by comparing today's soldiers to those who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The president mentioned Adam Stephen, a Revolutionary War general who founded Martinsburg, a city of 15,000 in the panhandle of West Virginia. "We give thanks for all the brave citizen-soldiers of our Continental Army who dropped pitchforks and took up muskets to fight for our freedom and liberty and independence," Bush said. He added: "You're the successors of those brave men. . . . Like those early patriots, you're fighting a new and unprecedented war."
Bush singled out two West Virginia guardsmen, Brad Runkles and Derek Brown, who recently reenlisted although they were badly wounded in Iraq in 2004.
"Your service is needed. We need for people to volunteer to defend America," the president said.
The audience, which was crammed in a corner of a hangar draped with two-story-high American flags, included troops in uniform and the children, spouses, mothers and fathers of serving Guard members.
Most said they are solidly behind the president -- who spent 20 minutes shaking hands after his remarks -- and the mission in Iraq.
"I love him, and my son loves him. He gets the job done," said Donna L. Ruppenthal, of Hedgesville, W.Va., whose son is serving in Iraq.
Several family members said the president's speech helped to ease their doubts about whether the war in Iraq is worth the loss of more than 3,500 soldiers.
"I'm glad we came. I think it helped clear up some confusion and some misgivings about our reasons for being there," said Chris Davis, 56, who has a 26-year-old son in the Guard. "The president gave us some pride, knowing what [our son] is doing for the country."
Others, however, remained unimpressed. "I've heard it all before," said Patti Scott, 72, of Richmond. "I just don't approve of the war."