Thank you all for coming – veterans and MIA/POW groups, leaders of this department, and distinguished guests.
I want to extend a special thanks to two groups of people. To the former prisoners of war – your presence here is an important gesture of solidarity, tangible proof that we as a nation will continue to honor all of those who have been captured or gone missing. You have been through a great ordeal and may still carry scars. Know always that our nation is keenly aware of, and ever thankful for, your sacrifice.
I would also like to thank the families and friends of those still missing. Missing-in-action status is marked by ambiguity and uncertainty – a severe test of spirit and resolve for anyone seeking closure. 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.
We will neither forget our duty to bring home all POWs and MIAs, nor relent in our efforts to do so.
Last week, our nation reflected on the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It was, for most of us at the Pentagon, a day of both remembrance and recommitment. Even as we mourned those who were killed, we also recalled the clarity of purpose and strength of resolve we found in the aftermath of the attacks.
I mention this because today, also, is a day of remembrance and recommitment. And it is furthermore a day that will always be connected to September 11th by coincidence of the calendar. When mid-September was first chosen to honor and remember our POWs and MIAs, it was picked because it was unconnected to any specific war or cause. It was meant to be a day wholly its own.
I believe, however, that it is in some ways fitting that this day should come just after our annual September 11th remembrance. 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.
As in past eras, we have once again been called to duty in a conflict that is global in scope, and generational in duration. And, as in the past, the honor, courage, and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform will be our nation’s glory. As in the past losing them on the battlefield is ever our tragedy.
The enemies we face today – and the ideology that inspires them – are in some ways similar to earlier foes. Their ambitions are global, their hopes totalitarian. But they are also very different. They have no borders to defend, diplomats to negotiate with, or armies, navies, or air forces to defeat. Their instrument is terror; their victims, the innocent. And they don’t take prisoners.
Even with all the advances and advantages of technology, the vagaries of war still mean that we cannot account for everyone – even in the 21st century.
Today, I would like to pay special tribute to four soldiers who have gone missing in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Staff Sergeant “Matt” Maupin; Specialist Ahmed al-Taei; Specialist Alex Jimenez; Private Byron Fouty. They may not be well known to the public, but within the brotherhood of arms, they will never be forgotten, or left behind.
These men are the latest additions to the ranks of tens of thousands who remain missing from previous conflicts. And they are the latest additions to the ranks of those we remember today.
In a few minutes, we will hear from Patricia Scharf, an icon here at the Pentagon, where she has worked for 37 years. Mrs. Scharf’s husband, Charles, was shot down in Vietnam in 1965, and last year his remains were identified and buried less than half a mile from here, in Section 66 of Arlington National Cemetery. Her words will undoubtedly capture the feelings many of you have far better than my own.
Before she speaks, it is my distinct honor to introduce the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace.
General Pace’s distinguished career is too long to go into here, but I would like to mention one thing. Many of you may have heard that General Pace keeps on his desk a photograph of the first man lost under his command. It is not as well-known that he also keeps a picture of the first serviceman to go missing in the War on Terror. For General Pace, those pictures are a reminder not only of the terrible cost of war, but also of his solemn duty to all our troops in harm’s way.
In General Pace, our men and women in uniform have a tireless ally and advocate. And in General Pace, our nation has been blessed to have the services of a dedicated and decorated Marine. When he retires at the end of this month, I will sorely miss his counsel, his candor, and his friendship.