NAMPA, Idaho - Borrowing the words of a military mother whose husband and five sons have served in Iraq, President Bush told thousands of soldiers and airmen yesterday that winning the war was worth the sacrifice of losing lives.
By invoking Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, Bush's speech to National Guard members and Air Force personnel was the latest effort by the White House to respond to increasingly organized anti-war protests being led largely by mothers of fallen soldiers.
"There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war," Bush told an audience of more than 9,000 people crammed into the Idaho Center in Nampa, a Boise suburb.
"Tammy says this - and I want you to hear this: 'I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn't ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.'"
Pruett, a 46-year-old administrative assistant, was in the audience with her husband, Leon, and received a kiss on the cheek from Bush after the speech.
The couple, who were featured earlier this year on CNN, said they received a call about a week ago from the White House requesting their presence at yesterday's event.
The quote from Pruett drew sustained cheering.
It was a moment that underscored the growing reliance on symbolism by both sides in the struggle for public opinion - a struggle that surveys show the White House has been losing in recent weeks.
Even some prominent Republicans have criticized Bush and drawn parallels between Iraq and Vietnam. GOP strategists are worried that the war's mounting death toll could hurt their candidates in the 2006 and 2008 elections should the United States continue to maintain a large presence there.
The most prominent of the anti-war activists is Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, Calif., woman whose son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, died in Iraq in 2004.
On Aug. 6, she set up a protest encampment near Bush's home outside Crawford, Texas, saying she would remain there either until she met with Bush face to face or until he returned to Washington in early September.
Although she left last week after her mother fell ill in Los Angeles, Sheehan returned yesterday to "Camp Casey," which has grown to two sites, both adorned with small wooden crosses symbolizing soldiers' deaths.
Other mothers have joined Sheehan, whose efforts are being bolstered by a broad array of liberal groups such as MoveOn .org and TrueMajority.
Bush, who returned to Crawford late yesterday, interrupted his vacation this week to defend his Iraq policy. He addressed veterans in Utah on Monday and told reporters on Tuesday that Sheehan did not reflect the feelings of most military families he has met with since the war began.
After his speech yesterday, Bush met privately with 68 members of 19 families of dead soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it has ordered 1,500 additional troops to Iraq to provide security in advance of two coming elections.
Two infantry battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division will deploy to Iraq before the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution and remain through the December national elections, officials said.
They will join the 138,000 U.S. troops already there. The battalions are expected to remain in Iraq for 120 days.
The military anticipates an increase in violence in Iraq in advance of the elections, with insurgents opposed to the U.S.-backed government trying to disrupt the process.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.