Arlington, Va. President Bush passed a startling sign on his Memorial Day drive into the burial grounds for thousands of military dead - "Thank God for dead soldiers," it read. Bush took action Monday in hopes that no more families see similar sentiments when they bury loved ones who died in the war.
Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which Congress passed in response to the activities of a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals across the country. The group members claimed the deaths symbolized God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals, and their actions sparked outrage among grieving families and lawmakers.
The new law bars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery. This restriction applies an hour before until an hour after a funeral. Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
After signing the bill, Bush headed to Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremony to honor war dead. Because it was not a funeral, the protesters were free to speak their minds and did so - a small group held anti-gay signs near the entrance as Bush's motorcade drove by.
Across the street, a few people from the Washington, D.C., chapter of FreeRepublic.com, a self-styled grass-roots conservative group, held signs supporting U.S. troops. A large sign held by several people read: "God bless our troops, defenders of freedom, American heroes."
Their message fit the theme of the day, as Bush set a large wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns and then said the nation must continue fighting the war on terror in the name of those have already given their life in the cause.
"The best way to pay respect is to value why a sacrifice was made," Bush said, quoting from a letter that Lt. Mark Dooley wrote to his parents before being killed in September in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
Noting that some 270 fighting men and women of the nearly 2,500 who have fallen since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Bush said, "We have seen the costs in the war on terror that we fight today."
"I am in awe of the men and women who sacrifice for the freedom of the United States of America," the president declared, drawing a lengthy standing ovation from the troops, families of the fallen and others gathered at the cemetery's 5,000-seat white marble amphitheater.
The nation can best honor the dead by "defeating the terrorists : and by laying the foundation for a generation of peace," Bush said.
Bush signed a second bill Monday that allows combat troops to deposit tax-free pay into individual retirement accounts. Supporters of the legislation argued that rules governing these accounts were punishing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who earn only tax-free combat pay.