The uprising failed, but Hungary's attempt to shake off its Soviet masters rattled the Kremlin and inspired dissidents throughout the communist bloc. Some historians consider it the first crack in the Iron Curtain, a fissure that grew over time until the Soviet Union broke apart in 1989.
"They crushed the Hungarian uprising, but not the Hungarian people's thirst for freedom," Bush said in a speech on Gellert Hill, overlooking the Danube River and the Hungarian parliament. "The lesson of the Hungarian experience is clear: Liberty can be delayed, but it cannot be denied."
Bush dropped by Hungary to mark the revolution's 50th-anniversary year after a summit Wednesday in Vienna, Austria, with leaders from the European Union. He was to return to Washington last night.
The president did not address lingering resentment in Hungary over America's failure to help the revolutionaries. Overly enthusiastic commentators on Radio Free Europe fed the belief that help was on the way. In Budapest, beleaguered freedom fighters convinced themselves that America would come to their aid.
"For the sake of God and freedom, help Hungary!" a shortwave-radio broadcaster appealed on the day of the invasion.
But President Dwight Eisenhower feared that direct involvement by the United States would trigger World War III - and with it the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Besides, the president and his advisers already were preoccupied with a crisis over Egypt's decision to nationalize the Suez Canal.
"We were let down," Simonyi said. "All democracies - big and small - have a responsibility to not let others down when they are fighting for their freedom."
The uprising started with a student protest that quickly grew to a mob of about 200,000. The demonstrators pulled down a statue of Joseph Stalin and marched on Parliament. When members of the hated secret police opened fire, Hungarian troops switched sides and joined the protest.
Within days, a new Hungarian government took power, top communists fled to Moscow and Soviet troops withdrew. For a brief period, it looked as if freedom had triumphed.
Then the Soviets came back with tanks. As many as 30,000 Budapest residents died in the fighting. The reinstated Soviet-backed government jailed thousands of Hungarians. An additional 200,000 fled the country.
"Fifty years later the sacrifice of the Hungarian people inspires all who love liberty," Bush said. "We've learned from your example. And we resolve that when people stand up for their freedom, America will stand with them."
Contact reporter Ron Hutcheson at 202-549-4583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read the text of President Bush's remarks in Budapest, visit http://go.philly.com/hungary