MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Burdened by sagging polls and an unpopular war, President Bush sought a friendly audience on the Fourth of July to deliver a patriotic, gung-ho speech about supporting US troops and sticking it out in Iraq.
He didn't have to go far -- just a 35-minute helicopter ride from the White House -- to find an amiable audience at the Air National Guard in West Virginia.
"Victory in this struggle will require more patience, more courage, and more sacrifice," Bush told the guardsmen and their families in a half-hour speech in a cavernous aircraft maintenance hangar at the 167th Airlift Wing.
"If we were to quit Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists we are fighting would not declare victory and lay down their arms. They would follow us here."
That line played well with the crowd.
"Whether we should have gone in or not is another matter, but we need to support our troops," said Ronald Wayne Taylor, a retired colonel with the 167th. "There's no question about it, we need to stay and finish the job."
It was Bush's fourth Independence Day trip to West Virginia, a state he carried in the past two presidential elections. His first was to Ripley, W.Va., in 2002.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the president has struck similar chords in his speeches on the nation's birthday.
Last year in Fort Bragg, N.C., where members of the 82 d Airborne Division greeted him with bellowing chants of "Hoo-rah," Bush said, "This moment when the terrorists are suffering from the weight of successive blows is not the time to call retreat."
That echoed his speech on July 4, 2005, in Morgantown, W.Va., when he exclaimed, "The proper response is not retreat. It is courage."
Just like this year, Bush talked, on the Fourth of July 2004 in Charleston, W.Va., about fighting the battle against extremists abroad "so we do not have to face them here at home."
And on July 4, 2003, a few months after the war began, Bush said at an Air Force Base in Ohio, "The United States will not stand by and wait for another attack or trust in the restraint and good intentions of evil men."
A small anti war demonstration was beginning in Charleston as Bush defended his decision in January to send 28,000 more US troops to Iraq to tamp down the violence and encourage the Iraqis to reach political agreements among Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds.
The war, in its fifth year, has claimed the lives of more than 3,580 US military men and women. The offensive in Baghdad and areas to the north and south has boosted American casualties, although the number of bombings and shootings has fallen in the city in recent days.
"It's a tough fight, but I wouldn't have asked those troops to go into harm's way if the fight was not essential to the security of the United States of America," Bush said.
About 2,000 people, including members of the 167th Airlift Wing and their families, were invited to the event.
Most of those asked about Bush's decision to commute the 2 1/2-year prison sentence of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby didn't want to talk about it. Those who did backed the president's decision.
"I think that Scooter Libby did the right thing to take the fall for everybody," said David Anderson, a Vietnam veteran who has a son in the National Guard. "I think that the president has a duty to tell these people, 'Yeah, we appreciate that and this is the way it's going to go.' For God's sake, it's not Watergate."
After the speech, Bush returned to the White House to watch fireworks and celebrate his 61st birthday tomorrow with friends and members of his family, including his twin daughters and his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.