By JAMES HANNAH, Associated Press Writer
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - President Bush told thousands of spectators at a military base on Friday that he was honored to celebrate Independence Day and the 100th anniversary of flight at what he called the birthplace, home and the future of aerospace.
"Today and everyday, the people of this land are grateful for their freedom, and we are proud to call ourselves citizens of the United States of America," Bush told the crowd at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
He said America was still at war and enemies continue to plot against the nation, which remains on the offensive.
"The United States will not stand by and wait for another attack or trust in the restraint or the good intentions of evil men," Bush said.
Standing beneath a giant flag on warm, muggy day, the president addressed the audience wearing no tie and with the sleeves of his light blue dress shirt rolled up.
About 26,000 tickets were handed out for the event. People with cameras, binoculars, blankets, water bottles and sun hats gathered on grassy areas by an unused runway near the U.S. Air Force Museum where Bush spoke from a stage trimmed in patriotic bunting and flanked by a Wright Flyer replica, a B-1 bomber, a stealth fighter and several other war planes.
Natalie Neal, 39, of nearby West Chester, woke up at 4:45 a.m. to be among those first on the base. She packed a paperback to read while she waited.
"There's not a better way to spend the 4th of July than with your military and with your president," Neal said. "It's very touching to me because I always feel he's everywhere else. Now he's in my hometown. It's very humbling."
Anne Petersen, 33, also of West Chester, said she came because she loves Bush.
"We think he's such a man of integrity and honor," Petersen said. "We are just very proud of him."
Political analysts say Bush's appearance will enable him to portray himself as a wartime leader and score points with voters in a crucial part of the state.
Bush, who trained as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, is no stranger to using military settings as president.
On May 1, he landed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego to declare an end to major fighting in Iraq. A week earlier, he praised soldiers overseas and defense workers at home during a stop at an Army tank plant in Lima in northwest Ohio.
Nancy Martorano, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton, said Bush often has some sort of military symbol in the background even when he is talking about domestic issues.
"This provides a nice photo op for his campaign," Martorano said. "It's the Fourth of July, he's on an Air Force base, he's helping celebrate the development of flight. I wouldn't be surprised if we see pictures of him making his speech show up in campaign literature later on."
But state Sen. Jeff Jacobson, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said it is not a political visit. He said Bush is simply coming to show his support for the base and celebrate the Fourth.
"He cares about Ohio, and Ohio is important to him," Jacobson said.
Politically, Montgomery County is seen as a bellwether county in a key state. Bush lost the county to Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election and only beat Gore by 4 percentage points statewide.
"There's at least a perception that you have to do well in Ohio to win (the election)," Adams said. "He'll be back here many times before the election is over with."
Dennis Lieberman, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, said Bush is using the popularity of the military to cultivate votes in an electorally important part of the state.
"I think everybody sees through any claim that this is a bipartisan event," Lieberman said. "People who are not engaged in political thought in our country will support him because they support the military. This is what he's going to pound away at."