President George W. Bush stood before thousands of Camp Pendleton Marines, thanking them for their efforts in Iraq and declaring terrorists won't be able to control Iraq's destiny.

Bush landed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar early Tuesday, only to be transported to Camp Pendleton by Marine One, the president's official helicopter. He spent the day with Marines to thank them in a prepared speech, have lunch with the troops at a mess hall and meet with families of fallen or injured service members.

Thousands of Marines representing nearly every command on Camp Pendleton greeted the president with a round of "ooh-rahs." Bush, wearing a tanker jacket with a United States Marine Corps emblem on the right side and a Commander-In-Chief stitched on the left, thanked U.S. forces for making the sacrifices needed to make America safer.

"In the war on terror, you have fought enemies' freedom - freedom's enemies from the caves and mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts and cities of Iraq," Bush said the Marines of I Marine Expeditionary Force. "Marines of Camp Pendleton's 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were the first conventional forces to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. They deployed hundreds of miles into a landlocked country to help seize the Kandahar Airport, hunted down the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and helped to liberate more than 28 million people from one of the world's most brutal regimes."

Bush said he expects the work by Marines to pay off. He pointed to Iraq's anticipated Jan. 30 election date, but warned, "we can expect further violence... The terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections in Iraq. And they will fail."

Bush promised, as he has repeatedly over recent days, the elections "will proceed as planned.

"You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake," the president said. "They know they have no future in a free Iraq.

"They know democracy will give Iraqis a stake in the future of their country," Bush continued in his comments about Marines' enemies in Iraq. "When Iraqis choose their leader in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists really are fighting is the will of the Iraqi people."

Bush ate a sit-down lunch with Marines, sailors and soldiers at a nearby mess hall. After finishing his plate of beef, noodles and rice, and talking with nearby Marines, he greeted service members.

The president finished his visit to Camp Pendleton by spending time with families of wounded and fallen Marines and sailors from I Marine Expeditionary Force at the Paige Field House. It was a time when news cameras weren't present, giving the families complete access to the commander-in-chief.

"Words can only go so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who have died," Bush said. "But you can know this: They gave their lives for a cause that is just. And as in other generations, their sacrifice will have spared millions from the lives of tyranny and sorrow."

The visit marked the second time Bush visited Camp Pendleton and the first since the Global War on Terror began. Bush last addressed Marines at the base was in May of 2001 during his first visit to California as president.

Marines from Camp Pendleton have been involved in nearly every stage of the Global War on Terror, fighting in Afghanistan, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the ongoing stabilization of Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Among their missions, Camp Pendleton Marines were among the thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops that fought recently to secure the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

More than 21,000 Marines and sailors from the I Marine Expeditionary Force, based here, are serving in operations in Iraq.