NEW YORK - President Bush thanked veterans Tuesday for serving their country, noting wistfully that he'll "miss being commander in chief of such a fabulous group."
Bush marked his last Veterans Day as president with a visit to a New York pier that is home to the World War II aircraft carrier Intrepid, appearing before a crowd of thousands bundled on a pier against the windy November chill for the rededication ceremony of the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
The president praised veterans in the crowd, including those who served aboard the Intrepid in its long history of military action.
"Thank you for your courage, thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for standing up when your nation needed you must," Bush said.
The president spoke in the shadow of the Intrepid and near the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, where sailors and marines peered down on the ceremony from the ship's deck. After his speech, astronauts Scott Carpenter and Buzz Aldrin helped the president toss a wreath into the Hudson River as a bugler played "Taps."
Finally, it was time for the ceremonial breaking of a champagne bottle against the hull - only the bottle didn't break.
Before the speech, Bush told reporters that one veteran in particular - his father, a World War II pilot - had inspired him.
"I was raised by a veteran. I appreciate the commitment to our country that the veterans have made," he said. "Our nation is blessed because our liberties have been defended by brave men and women in the past and we are blessed to have brave men and women defend our liberties today."
The Intrepid returned last month to the pier where it has served for 24 years as a military and space museum, a perennially popular tourist site in New York City. In late 2006, the carrier was moved for extensive repairs and improvements costing nearly $120 million.
Launched in 1943 as one of the Navy's then-new Essex-class attack carriers, the USS Intrepid figured in six major Pacific theater campaigns including Leyte Gulf, the war's greatest naval battle. It survived five Japanese kamikaze planes and a torpedo but lost 270 crew members in combat.
After World War II, the Intrepid saw service in the Korean and Vietnam wars and was twice a recovery ship for NASA astronauts before it was decommissioned and mothballed in a Philadelphia shipyard and slated for demolition until rescued by New York real estate developer and philanthropist Zachary Fisher.