LIANE HANSEN, host:
President Bush, this morning, visited the American Military Cemetery outside Maastricht in the Netherlands to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in Europe during World War II. In a chill drizzle, the president joined Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to place wreaths as jets flew overhead and a bugler played "Taps." In brief remarks, Mr. Bush recalled the sacrifice of the soldiers who died in World War II and the cause for which they fought.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: On this peaceful May morning, we commemorate a great victory for liberty. And the thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David underscore the terrible price we've paid for that victory.
HANSEN: The president's visit to the Netherlands followed a stop in Latvia yesterday, also to mark the end of the war in Europe. Today, he flies to Moscow for more commemorations. NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. Before leaving for Moscow, he told us about the scene at the cemetery this morning.
DON GONYEA reporting:
There are 8,300 graves of American soldiers here. Now most died in fighting in Germany and their bodies were brought here to the Netherlands for burial. There are simple marble crosses and Stars of David that mark each grave. They're arranged in curved rows that radiate out from one side of a tall monument that honors the war dead. And today, every single grave had a Dutch and an American flag placed in the ground in front of it. In addition to all of the dignitaries that were here, there were several thousand people, as well, many of them local people. And one thing President Bush talked about was something that's unique among the American military cemeteries overseas that happens here. Families from this community, and really from miles around, have adopted graves. And they come and they kind of represent the family that can't visit them all the time. And every year, on Memorial Day, and on other special days, they put flowers there.
HANSEN: Don, did you get a chance to talk to any of the local people?
GONYEA: I did. I talked to a good many of them, and every single one of them, today, 60 years later, is expressing the gratitude that people around here feel for the sacrifices made by these young American soldiers who came here. I talked to one particular woman. She's 47 years old. Her name is Rosie Byer(ph). She came from this town of Idenhomen(ph), which is about 50 miles away from here. And she, just two years ago, adopted two graves. And she comes several times a year, brings flowers, and I asked her to tell me a little bit about one of the soldiers whose grave she adopted.
Ms. ROSIE BYER (Adopted Graves): John Mensek(ph) comes from Texas, and, without knowing it, we've put yellow roses on his grave. And then his son responded and said, `The yellow rose is the flower of Texas.' And we didn't know that. And he was very excited that there were yellow roses on the grave of his father. It's very strange, but it's also something we have to keep alive as long as there are living souls on this planet, I think.
GONYEA: And she told me the only reason she had brought a yellow rose that first time was because that was all the flower store had. I also asked her what it was like being here today, and she said it's nice that the president's here and that the queen is here and that the prime minister is here. But, really, the thing that moves her is just the simplicity of these grave sites and what a part of the community they have become.
HANSEN: Moscow is the next stop. What's on the president's agenda there?
GONYEA: He has a dinner, a private dinner, when he arrives later on today, this evening, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And they're going to have about an hour to talk about a number of things, a lot of things on the table. So that will take place. And then tomorrow is really the big event of this trip for the president. It is a celebration in Red Square marking the end of World War II in Europe. President Bush will be one of many foreign leaders there. But there will be a military parade, and Red Square will be really the focal point of these end-of-World War II celebrations tomorrow.
HANSEN: You know, this trip was supposed to be all about ceremony, but there's been a great deal of tension because of the issues over the former Soviet states. Have you been able to assess? I mean, what's the president's mood like? What's the mood of his staff?
GONYEA: It's been more tension than I think they anticipated. The questions from the local press at the various places have been about Russia and the Baltics and lingering tensions that go back to the end of the war. The Baltics, of course, aren't really celebrating the end of World War II in Europe because they went from Hitler to Stalin. So those sorts of things have come up. But today, though, was a day for the president to simply pay tribute to American soldiers who sacrificed and to really relate the struggles over the last century to the challenges of the current century.
HANSEN: NPR's Don Gonyea. He spoke to us earlier from Maastricht in the Netherlands.
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