Bush Calls for More Community Service
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
CHARLES CITY, Va., Nov. 19 -- In a speech at the historic Berkeley Plantation, where 38 English settlers held what many consider to be the nation's first Thanksgiving in 1619, President Bush on Monday saluted the military and the nation's "good Samaritans" and called on Americans to perform more community service.
"This Thanksgiving, we pay tribute to all Americans who serve a cause larger than themselves," Bush told about 500 supporters gathered at the plantation on the banks of the James River, about 30 miles southeast of Richmond. While Bush vowed that U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to make a stand against "extremists and radicals," most of his remarks were focused on a message of honoring those who serve others.
Bush held up three Americans as examples of what the country should be proud, including a Virginia Tech professor killed in April trying to protect his students from a gunman.
In falling back on the theme of compassion, which was a staple of his presidential campaign in 2000, Bush asked Americans to honor those who make the country better, including teachers, firefighters, farmers, police officers and clergy.
Before the speech, Bush stopped by a Richmond food bank, where he looked over rows of canned goods. At one point, the president lifted up a can of Bush Beans and quipped, "Why, cousin."
At the Berkeley Plantation, originally named Berkeley Hundred, Bush noted the location's role in the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday.
When Capt. John Woodlief and 37 colonists washed ashore aboard the Good Ship Margaret in 1619, they read a statement saying, "The day of our ship's arrival . . . shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving."
The Pilgrims, who are widely credited with holding the first Thanksgiving, arrived in Plymouth a year later.
In his speech, Bush did not take sides in the "first Thanksgiving" debate, but he praised the Virginia settlers for helping to establish democracy. The president also expressed remorse at the "terrible cost" Native Americans paid at the hands of the settlers, and he went on to condemn the slave trade as a "shameful chapter in our nation's history," acknowledging that racial divisions persist in America.
"Today, we are grateful to live in a more perfect union," said Bush, noting that slaves were once held at the Berkeley Plantation. "Yet our society still faces divisions that hold us back. These divisions have roots in the bitter experiences of our past and have no place in America's future."
Bush called on the country to spend time this week remembering the "many examples of the good heart of the American people."
He signaled out Liviu Librescu, an Israeli-born Virginia Tech engineering professor who tried to keep Seung Hui Cho out of his classroom so his students could try to escape through the windows. Librescu was killed during the shooting rampage that left 33 people dead, including Cho.
Bush also recognized Jeremy Hernandez, a Minneapolis man who helped rescue children off a school bus that was about to plunge into he Mississippi River after a bridge collapsed. He also praised Doris Hicks, a New Orleans principal, for reopening this summer the first public school in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005.
"These stories remind us that our nation's greatest strength is the decision and compassion of our people," Bush said.