General Promises Families DoD Will Continue Searching for MIAs
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., June 17, 2005 A top Army general this week thanked more than 270 family members of servicemen still missing in Southeast Asia for their service and sacrifice during the Defense Department's 2005 annual government briefings for Vietnam War-era families.
Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells families of servicemen still missing in Southeast Asia that the government will never stop looking for their loved ones. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"You're the ones who woke the nation to the plight of our POWs and MIAs in Vietnam," Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the families.
Odierno was the keynote speaker during opening ceremonies for the three-day series of government briefings that ends here today. The briefings give families of missing servicemen an opportunity to meet with numerous civilian and military government representatives whose expertise includes foreign government negotiation, policy, remains recovery and identification, DNA science, archival research, and intelligence analysis.
He said family members should be proud of their service and their contributions to preserving the freedoms Americans enjoy and for raising the consciousness of the nation and the world on prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action issues.
"I hope that those loved ones and comrades in arms who are still missing might one day be returned home," said Odierno.
Odierno said not everyone understands what "the sharing of sacrifice" means like military people do. But, he noted, events that occurred over the last few years have created a new generation of servicemembers who understand sacrifice and what sacrifices were made by past generations, whether it be in Vietnam, Korea or World War II.
"If any of you have loved ones who gave their last full measure of devotion to duty, I thank you personally for their sacrifice and for your sacrifice," the general told the families.
When a servicemember becomes a POW or is missing, "their family endures the harshest cruelty that can be -- the pain of the unknown," he said. "I believe today we receive undying support from all people in the United States. I believe we get this support because of the regrets of the treatment of Vietnam veterans and their families and that we've learned a lesson over time.
"It's with the immediate family and the larger military family that these meetings carry such importance," Odierno said. "We know that it was your generation that truly opened the eyes to the plight of POWs."
He said Vietnam War-era families helped improve the treatment of POWs, swaying U.S. and world opinion and aiding in the release of 600 POWs during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
"A lot of your efforts and efforts of people before you made a difference," the general noted. "You bore witness to the atrocities and showed the world that our enemy was treating members of the entire American family, both military and civilian POWs, inhumanly.
"We'll always bear witness to our loved ones and remember their service and sacrifice," he continued. "We'll renew our determination that we will never forget that. Our commitment to account for those still missing is rooted in values like freedom, honor, duty, service to country, support for those in need and in the personal lives of those who served together in combat."
He said this includes one of the key warrior's ethos -- "never leave a comrade behind."
"In your case -- never forget the plight of those you love," Odierno said. "Just like taking care of family, America's fighting men and women take care of each other. This promise is woven into the great fabric of our being as soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and Coast Guardsmen, as well those civilians who also sacrificed.
"That legacy of honor has been proven time and again in our country's history," he said. "In Iraq today, men and women would risk their lives to retrieve a fallen comrade. On a national level, we're committed to the same ideal. We're devoted to obtain the fullest possible accounting for all Americans still missing."
The general assured the families that the government is exploring every possible avenue and every means of influence to achieve a full possible accounting for all fallen and missing heroes.
"This is a quest that we must pursue relentlessly wherever it takes us for as long as it takes us until all are accounted for," Odierno said. "The most senior levels of our government are dedicated to this quest."
He pointed out that the Defense Department has joint field activities in Vietnam and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, that are dedicated to accounting for America's missing. "And in particular, to bring home every possible hero of the more than 1, 830 Americans missing from the Vietnam War," he said.
The nation found itself engaged in another war on Sept. 11 that wasn't of America's choosing, Odierno said. "Thousands of Americans were killed on that fateful day," he noted. "They came from all across America, and they all left families behind. Across the street at the Pentagon, we were lucky. We were able to identify the remains of everyone who died. But in New York, over 1,100 individuals have not been accounted for.
"If the terrorists thought that inflicting this kind of pain would cause us to cower, I think they know now that they were wrong," Odierno said. "We will continue to take the fight to them. We will not allow them to take away what's most important to us -- our freedom. Failure is simply not an option. We will not sacrifice the future of our children. We cannot allow these extremists to dictate our future and our children's future."
A photo of the three-star general and his son, Army Capt. Anthony K. Odierno, who lost his left arm in a battle in Iraq, graces the cover of the June 20 edition of Newsweek magazine. The magazine features a story called, "The Family Business," about the military's special father-son bond.
Odierno was commander of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), from Fort Hood, Texas, during that unit's deployment to Iraq from March 2003 to April 2004. He said 4th Infantry Division soldiers formed a bond of brotherhood that will last forever with those who had sacrificed before them.
"The events of Sept. 11 and our ongoing combat operations against extremists serve as a reminder that service and sacrifice are continuous parts of our lives," he said.