Defense Department Will Not Relent in MIA Efforts, Leaders Pledge
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2007 The United States military will “neither forget our duty to bring home all POWs and MIAs, nor relent in our efforts to do so,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace; Patricia Scharf, widow of Air Force Col. Charles Scharf; and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates render honors during the national anthem during a POW/MIA ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 21, 2007. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The secretary, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace, spoke at the POW/MIA Day ceremony at the Pentagon today.
Roughly 30,000 Americans alive today were once held as prisoners of war, Pace said. Millions of Americans have taken the oath to become servicemembers, he said, but few “have been called to sacrifice the way our prisoners of war have been called to sacrifice and to be tested in the belief in that oath.”
The general spoke of the incredible way that former prisoners of war fulfilled their oaths, and he said they hand a legacy of service to servicemembers today.
“We hope and pray that if we were to be in the same state that they were in, that we might discharge our duties as well as they have discharged theirs,” Pace said. “That legacy spurs us on to serve this nation out of respect for their honor and their service.”
Gates gave a special welcome to former POWs in the audience and to the families of Americans still listed as missing in action.
“Missing-in-action status is marked by ambiguity and uncertainty, a severe test of spirit and resolve for anyone seeking closure,” he said. “Your attendance today proves once again that the bond of love transcends the passage of time, that while our nation’s heroes may remain missing in body, they are always present in spirit.”
The POW/MIA commemoration is a time to remember and recommit, the secretary said. The day will be linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by coincidence of the calendar, but when the day was chosen it was picked because it was unconnected to any specific war or cause, Gates said.
But, he added, it is also fitting that POW/MIA Day be linked to Sept. 11.
“Throughout our nation’s history, it has always fallen to the men and women of the armed forces to respond to aggressors and adversaries; to endure arduous and Spartan conditions; to risk life and limb on the battlefield; to make the sacrifices that are, in the final analysis, both our nation’s tragedy and our glory,” he said.
Servicemembers have again answered the call to duty and are fighting a conflict that is global in scope and generational in duration, Gates said. “And, as in the past, the honor, courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform will be our nation’s glory,” he said. “As in the past, losing them on the battlefield is ever our tragedy.”
Gates paid special tribute to four soldiers missing in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom: Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin, captured April 9, 2004; Spc. Ahmed Altaei, captured Oct. 23, 2006; and Spc. Alex Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty, both captured May 12, 2007. “They may not be well known to the public, but within the brotherhood of arms, they will never be forgotten or left behind,” Gates pledged.
“These men are the latest additions to the ranks of tens of thousands who remain missing from previous conflicts,” the secretary said. “And they are the latest additions to the ranks of those we remember today.”
Pace spoke about the families of those missing in action. “Our families, although they never stood in a formation or raised their right hand, … especially the families of our missing in action, serve our nation as well as anyone who has ever worn the uniform,” he said.
The families of the missing “are sacrificing in ways that only those sacrificing with them can possibly understand,” he continued. “I don’t know how any of us can ease that pain, but I hope in some small way, formations like this today and personal prayers might bring peace and comfort to the families of those missing in action and those members of the armed force who are MIA.”