Thank you. I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere. Thank you for inviting me to dinner. Gen. Sanchez, thank you, sir, for your kind invitation and your strong leadership. Ambassador Bremer, thank you for your steadfast belief in freedom and peace. I want to thank the members of the Governing Council who are here, pleased you are joining us on our nation’s great holiday, it’s a chance to give thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings we receive.
I’m particularly proud to be with the First Armored Division, the Second ACR, the 82nd Airborne. I can’t think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all. We’re proud of you. Today, Americans are gathering with their loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. And this year we are especially thankful for the courage and the sacrifice of those who defend us, the men and women of the United States military.
I bring a message on behalf of America: We thank you for your service, we’re proud of you, and America stands solidly behind you. Together, you and I have taken an oath to defend our country. You’re honoring that oath. The United States military is doing a fantastic job. You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq, so that we don’t have to face them in our own country. You’re defeating Saddam’s henchmen, so that the people of Iraq can live in peace and freedom.
By helping the Iraqi people become free, you’re helping change a troubled and violent part of the world. By helping to build a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East, you are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful.
You’re engaged in a difficult mission. Those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will. They hope we will run. We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.
We will prevail. We will win because our cause is just. We will win because we will stay on the offensive. And we will win because you’re part of the finest military ever assembled. And we will prevail because the Iraqis want their freedom.
Every day you see firsthand the commitment to sacrifice that the Iraqi people are making to secure their own freedom. I have a message for the Iraqi people: You have an opportunity to seize the moment and rebuild your great country, based on human dignity and freedom. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone forever.
The United States and our coalition will help you, help you build a peaceful country so that your children can have a bright future. We’ll help you find and bring to justice the people who terrorized you for years and are still killing innocent Iraqis. We will stay until the job is done. I’m confident we will succeed, because you, the Iraqi people, will show the world that you’re not only courageous, but that you can govern yourself wisely and justly.
On this Thanksgiving, our nation remembers the men and women of our military, your friends and comrades who paid the ultimate price for our security and freedom. We ask for God’s blessings on their families, their loved ones and their friends, and we pray for your safety and your strength, as you continue to defend America and to spread freedom. Each one of you has answered a great call, participating in an historic moment in world history. You live by a code of honor, of service to your nation, with the safety and the security of your fellow citizens. Our military is full of the finest people on the face of the earth. I’m proud to be your commander in chief. I bring greetings from America. May God bless you all.”
“…Air Force One, with its lights turned off for security reasons, touched down at Baghdad International Airport at 5:31 p.m. (9:31 a.m. EST) and taxied to a remote corner of the airport.
Bush then went to a hangar where about 600 members of the 1st Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division had gathered.
The U.S. forces had been told that L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces, would be attending the dinner.
As Bremer prepared to read a presidential proclamation to the troops, he said, “Let’s see if we’ve got anybody more senior here who can read the president’s Thanksgiving speech. Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than I?”
Bush then emerged, misty-eyed and wearing a U.S. Army exercise jacket, to a roaring ovation.
The shocked and elated soldiers jumped to their feet, pumped their fists in the air, roared with delight, and grabbed their cameras to snap photographs.
“I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere,” Bush joked, and added: “I can’t think of a finer group of folks to have dinner with.”
Then the commander-in-chief got serious.
“You are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful. You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq.”
The insurgents in the country are “testing our will. They hope we will run,” he said.
But, he said, “we did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.”
That line prompted a standing ovation.
“We will prevail. We will stay until the job is done,” he said.
Afterward, Bush mingled with soldiers and temporarily joined the servers on the food line to dish out sweet potatoes and corn.
“It gave us a little extra oomph,” Spc. Talitha Williams, an Arkansas native assigned to the 1st Armored Division. “Maybe we can get through this.”
“It felt good,” said Spc. Juan Deloera, also with the 1st Armored Division. “It really boosted my morale.”
“It helps a lot knowing that the commander in chief himself is going to come out here and make some of the same sacrifices away from his family, away from his home, to show that he is devoted and in the same position that we are,” said Pvt. Patrick McFarland of the 1st Armored Division.
“That’s where your mind is, on home this time of the year, and you think about your loved ones, your friends and things like that, and then you have the leader of our country come here and share dinner with us. It’s actually very special,” said Sgt. Robert Dunn, a Dallas native with the 1st Armored Division…”