Bush Celebrates POWs' Return

President Bush, and first lady Laura Bush, pose with , with Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., left, and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, right, both former POW's , after attending Easter church services at the 4th Infantry Division Memorial Chapel Sunday April 20, 2003, in Fort Hood, Texas. AP

An upbeat President Bush celebrated Easter Sunday with two prisoners of war rescued in Iraq a week earlier. "I thank God for their lives," Mr. Bush said at a military chapel.

The president flew to Fort Hood, 50 miles south of his Crawford ranch, to mark Christianity's highest holiday. Hours before he arrived, Chief Warrant Officers David S. Williams and Ronald D. Young Jr. had returned to their Army base.

To the returnee's, CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports, Fort Hood never looked so good. More than 1,000 soldiers and family members were part of the welcome. Young told his parents he feared he'd never make it back.
"We really do appreciate the support," said Young. "I thank God that I was allowed to live my life and share the rest of my life with my family."

Inside the 4th Infantry Division Memorial Chapel, the two helicopter pilots sat across the aisle from Mr. Bush, his wife, parents, mother-in-law and twin daughters.

Chaplain Lt. Col. Bill Phillips opened the service by saying, "It's really good to have you all here today." Then, glancing at the two POWs seated before him, he added with a grin, "Let's get real — it's amazing to have you all here!"

Sunshine streamed through the stained glass as Phillips told an audience of 200 the story of Christ's resurrection.

"Sir, if you'll forgive me," Phillips said, looking briefly at Mr. Bush. "It doesn't matter if you are president or a former president ... your life has meaning. Each of our lives has meaning in Christ."

There were reminders of war and loss on this base that has sent some 20,000 troops, about half its personnel, to the Iraq region. Most people in the chapel were women and children, their husbands and fathers off fighting the war. The cries of babies punctuated the service.

Another chaplain, Lt. Col. Robert Thompson, prayed for those killed in the war and "for elected officials who guide the big picture and make the big decisions."

After the service, Mr. Bush spent about 10 minutes with the former POWs and their families. Then Mr. Bush, Williams and Young met with reporters outside the church.

The president said he had prayed to thank God for "many blessings," and pronounced Sunday "a glorious day."

"I am particularly grateful that these two men were with us today. I thank God for their lives," he said.

Mr. Bush threw an arm around Williams' shoulder as he told reporters that Williams was off to see his family following the service.

"He is going to go see his children for the first time since he was captured. He hasn't even seen his children," Mr. Bush said. "So if you ask him questions, don't make it long, because, see, we're holding a dad up from hugging two children."

Mr. Bush refused to declare the war in Iraq over, though he made clear that Saddam Hussein is "no longer in power." He indicated he did not know whether the Iraqi leader is dead or alive.

Asked whether Saddam could pose a threat had he survived, Mr. Bush said: "I would suggest he not pop his head up."

Mr. Bush's trip to the base was the first time he had left his ranch since arriving Wednesday. It came on the last full day of his long weekend.

For their midday holiday dinner, the Bush family had ham, mozzarella and tomato salad, asparagus, green chili cheese grits, fresh fruit salad and sweet potato biscuits.

He spent his weekend exercising, chopping cedar, doing "home projects, a little fishing," Mr. Bush said. "Nothing better than fishing with your dad, and Barney," his dog, he added.

After the Easter break, White House aides say Mr. Bush will return to a heavy travel schedule to promote his domestic policies, primarily his proposed tax cuts.

Mr. Bush plans a Thursday trip to Ohio, Republican officials in that state said.

He planned to tour the Lima Army Tank Plant, which makes the Abrams M1A2 tank, the workhorse of mobile forces fighting the war in Iraq.

The trip marks a return to the hardball tactics Mr. Bush employed when he was selling his last batch of tax cuts in early 2001. Then, Mr. Bush often went into the home states of wavering senators to pressure them to fall into line.

Ohio is the home state of Sen. George Voinovich, one of the few Republican senators who have defied Mr. Bush's wishes for a tax cut of more than $550 billion over 10 years.

But there were signs Sunday that Republicans in opposition were only hardening their position.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said on ABC's "This Week" that as long as Voinovich and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, remained committed to capping the tax cut at $350 billion, he would block any bid to take it higher.

"The votes aren't there," Grassley said.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments