Bush Visits Base Hit By War Deaths

President Bush
In a pep talk to Marines at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune, President George W. Bush said no matter what crimes or schemes are committed by Iraq's leaders, coalition forces wouldn't be diverted from their mission.

The president called the Iraqi leaders war criminals and said they will be treated as such. He's accusing regime loyalists of using women and children as shields, forcing other Iraqis into battle by threatening their families, and executing prisoners of war.

The president stressed the most dangerous days are yet to come, but said the U.S. will prevail.

He said coalition troops wouldn't stop until "Iraq is free."

Mr. Bush bristled last week when a reporter asked him how long the war will take. "However long it takes," the commander-in-chief answered.

But that is precisely the question on the mind of Keri-Lee Johnson, a stay-at-home mother raising a 7-month-old, who wanted the president to tell her how long her husband will be away at war. Staff Sgt. Shawn Johnson left Feb. 7.

His wife wants Mr. Bush's frank answer on how long the war will last "not the standard 'It's going great' opinion," she said.

Other spouses simply appreciate the gesture of support.

Stephanie Gonzales said goodbye to her husband seven months ago. She and Cpl. Ramon Gonzales were middle school sweethearts in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"I go through the complete array of emotions from being scared to being very proud, proud of who I am, proud of my husband, proud of my country," Gonzales said.

In his third appearance at a military installation since the war began last month, the president chose the base hardest-hit by combat deaths. At least 13 of the Americans killed since the war started two weeks ago were from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and six more from that Marine Corps base are missing.

On Thursday, the president thanked the U.S. Marines and their families, praising the role they and their colleagues overseas are playing in the war against Iraq.

Amid the tone of victory lies the painful reality of war. Mr. Bush was meeting with the families of five Camp Lejeune soldiers who died in the war. The White House calls it the president's emotionally tough but important duty.

Mr. Bush said the missions undertaken by the Marines throughout Iraq have been difficult and dangerous, but he said no one becomes a Marine because it's easy. He said none of the fallen Marines will be forgotten.

"No one who falls will be forgotten by this nation," he said. "We honor and pray their families will receive God's comfort."

He also praised the Marines who took part in the commando operation that rescued American POW Jessica Lynch.