"Out of this rubble is going to come some good," the president told several hundred troops at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station in a brief pep talk delivered from the back of a black pickup truck.
Earlier, Mr. Bush and his wife visited a Habitat for Humanity work site in Covington, a town just north of New Orleans where the nonprofit organization is building houses for those who lost homes. He rejoiced in what he said was a spirit of revival there.
"I think we've seen the spirits change," Mr. Bush said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. "Local people are beginning to realize there's hope." In the interview, both he and his wife, Laura, defended his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush reiterated that he was confident Miers would be confirmed by the Senate.
When President Bush visited nearby Tammany Parrish four weeks ago,
"I'm beginning to see; I think one of our problems is the stress, as you see what's behind us was that we needed immediate assistance and that's tough," Kevin Davis, the parrish president, told Harry Smith of The Early Show.
In response to the government's initially slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush said, "If I didn't respond well enough, I'm going to learn the lessons." The federal government's response to the second huge storm to slam the area, Rita, has gotten better reviews.
"The story will unfold. I mean, the facts of the story will come out over time, and the important thing is for federal, state and local governments to adjust and to respond," President Bush said.
Mr. Bush's motorcade wended its way through the pitch dark down Covington's largely unscathed streets to the brightly lit Habitat site — a small patch of land amid a still-sleeping, modest neighborhood turned into a makeshift TV set.
Dressed for the occasion in hardhat, work gloves and a large wraparound tool belt, the president joined other volunteers hammering nails into a sheet of plywood. The first lady, a cloth nail pouch around her waist, accompanied him. President Bush spent most of his time chatting, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
At one point, a woman threw him some Mardi Gras beads that fell to the ground. "I couldn't catch them during the real Mardi Gras and I can't catch them now," he quipped.
Later, he went to the hard-hit coast Mississippi town of Pass Christian, to celebrate Monday's reopening of DeLisle Elementary School — which is now educating students from two schools for a combined population of 1,100, down from 2,000 before the storm. Mingling with dozens of children gathered in a grassy courtyard, Mr. Bush heard one boy say he had a dream he was president. "Someday you may be," Mr. Bush replied with a laugh.
He then visited a classroom of kindergarten children wiggling in their seats and running to hug him and Mrs. Bush.
"Part of the health of a community is to have a school system that is vibrant and alive," the president told them. "This school system is strong and it's coming back."
On Monday, the president sampled some of New Orleans' finest, getting an update from Mayor Ray Nagin and members of his rebuilding commission over dinner at Ralph Brennan's Bacco, an Italian restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter. He then spent the night at Windsor Court, a luxury hotel that hasn't yet opened to the public but made Bush and his entourage welcome.
Other people in New Orleans are having more trouble finding places to stay, reports CBS News correspondent Trish Regan for The Early Show.
Regan spoke with a resident of the city's hard-hit Ninth Ward, which flooded twice, and is now full of wind-ripped homes also destroyed by stagnant water and oil. The woman, returning home for the first time, described seeing her wrecked house as "heartbreaking."