WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech." So charged Robert C. Byrd, the so-called "Dean of the Congress," referring to President George W. Bush's historic visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 as it was making its way home after 10 months at sea.
Byrd, who in his salad days spent more time in white sheets than in camouflage uniforms, just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that the respect and admiration America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have for this president is deep. He's grown too cold and cynical after 50 years in Washington to realize that the affection this commander in chief has for his troops is genuine. It's a welcome change from a previous occupant of the Oval Office, who "loathed" the dedicated young men and women of the armed forces.
Late last December, the sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln were headed home after a six month deployment to see their spouses and children who were eagerly awaiting their arrival. At that time, already exhausted, they received orders to turn around and return to the Persian Gulf to prepare for war.
For the next four months, the crew of 5,500 aboard the Lincoln served with distinction. They launched 597 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 975 sorties in support of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq; and 1,558 sorties in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They did it all without casualties. When their mission was completed, they had been deployed for 290 consecutive days and traveled over 100,000 miles -- the equivalent of circling the globe four times.
Their work supported the efforts of Marines, soldiers and special operations teams on the ground in Iraq, who themselves made history by traveling farther, faster and with fewer casualties than any military force in history.
Recognizing the extraordinary skill and dedication required to achieve victory, the president decided to say "well done" -- not only to the sailors on the Lincoln -- but to all of his troops in a way that they would appreciate. A former pilot, the president flew in on a Navy S-3B Viking and took the controls for part of the trip. By landing on a moving carrier -- an extraordinarily difficult feat -- he paid the crew on board the Lincoln the ultimate compliment -- he put his life in their hands. He never expressed a doubt that they would bring him in safely.
And yet Robert Byrd has the nerve to dismiss the president's tribute to the troops as that of "a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.