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Bush to honor the fallen soldiers of WWII
Updated: 2005-05-08 16:18

As US President Bush seeks to promote democracy around the globe, he paused Sunday to pay tribute to the sacrifice made by World War II soldiers who never came home from their fight against tyranny.

Bush was spending the 60th anniversary of the May 1945 signing of the Berlin armistice that ended the war in Europe at the continent's third-largest cemetery for American veterans near here in Margraten.

"I will be honoring a generation that made enormous sacrifices so that my generation could grow up in a free world," Bush said at a discussion with young Dutch professionals and college students before going to Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial where 8,301 American war dead are buried. "It will be a solemn occasion but an important moment."

Earlier, Bush and Prime Minister Jan Pieter Balkenende chatted as they walked side-by-side through a gravel courtyard on a chilly, overcast morning at the chateau where Bush stayed and where the two held a working breakfast together.

Bush finishes the day in Moscow, where he and dozens of other world leaders are attending Monday's Red Square victory celebration that Russian President Vladimir Putin is staging on the day Russians regard as the V-E Day anniversary.

Bush and Putin meet Sunday night, a day after the U.S. president used a speech in the Baltic nation of Latvia to not-so-subtly nudge Russia to own up to its wartime past. In Russia, victory in the "Great Patriot War" is treasured as an unvarnished triumph, while many of Russia's neighbors see the Red Army's success as only the start of 50 years of brutal Soviet oppression.

Anger over that unacknowledged history remains potent in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithunia and Estonia, annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and given independence 14 years ago. With his stop in Latvia on the way to Moscow, including a meeting there with the leaders of all three Baltic states, Bush underscored their continuing grievances against Russia and offered an American model of acknowledging past mistakes as an example for Putin to follow.

"No good purpose is served by stirring up fears and exploiting old rivalries in this region," Bush said of Russia. "The interests of Russia and all nations are served by the growth of freedom that leads to prosperity and peace."

Bush has promised that such matters, part of Washington's broader concerns about Putin's commitment to democracy, will come up when the two meet — first formally, then over dinner with their wives — at the Russian leader's dacha.

There are a host of other items on the agenda for the leaders whose cooperation is crucial: stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons materials, ending the nuclear pursuits of nations such as Iran and North Korea and securing a Mideast peace. The relationship has soured of late amid U.S. unhappiness with Russian missile sales to Syria and crackdowns on business and Moscow's complaints of American meddling in its traditional sphere of influence.

Bush arrived Saturday night in the Netherlands, a socially liberal nation where he is widely unpopular.

But in the region around the graveyard, hard by the country's borders with Belgium and Germany, Americans also are fondly remembered for liberating the Netherlands from the Nazis. Many local Dutch still bring flowers to the headstones, white marble croses arranged in sweeping arcs, in honor of the deaths incurred by U.S. forces.

After a somber wreath-laying, Bush was to speak before thousands of locals and about 100 aging Dutch and American WWII veterans to remember the sacrifices of soldiers from the United States, Holland and elsewhere.

It is one in a series of ceremonies worldwide on milestones in the conflict that drew in 61 countries and claimed 55 million lives, including 405,000 Americans. Last year, Bush went to France for the 60th anniversary of the pivotal D-Day landing by American soldiers at Normandy. In January, Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Poland to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi concentration camps.

The Netherlands speech was also one of three over Bush's five-day European tour focused on democracy's march in the past, present and future. The last is Tuesday in Tbilisi, Georgia, before as many as 100,000 people in the freshly democratic ex-Soviet republic's Freedom Square.

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