Thank you, Jerry [Jennings, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs]. You know, the last time you introduced me, when you mentioned my third tour in the Defense Department, you referred to me as a “lifer.” Well, an amazing story came my way recently that really put your comment into perspective. This is a true story, by the way. When Jerry was a young Marine officer, he was sent to a remote camp in California to get trained in techniques of survival, particularly as a prisoner of war. Well, as Jerry faced his interrogator one day, Jerry applied a technique rarely seen in those parts.
He grabbed the man’s chair, dumped him on the floor, and then shot out of there. Jerry scaled the wall and ran. It was only after they got the bloodhounds on his trail that they caught Jerry a few hours later.
I’m told that Jerry was one of a very few who ever escaped from that camp, which is certainly a testament to his tenacity and courage and qualifications for this job. But, even more amazing to me is, Jerry often claims that working at the White House was much more difficult than his time in the Marines….
Jerry, in all honesty, our country could have no more devoted and dedicated advocate in accounting for America’s missing. I know there are other governments that have discovered Jerry’s dedication to this issue and determination to resolve it can’t be taken lightly.
As you can imagine, Jerry can be very persuasive. But, when Jerry told me about DPMO’s inaugural conference, he didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to come here and say a few words. As he mentioned, I’ve had a long and close association with this cause myself, and I’m delighted—absolutely delighted—to be here this morning. Believe me, those of you in DPMO and the soon-to-be merged Joint Task Force-Full Accounting and CILHI [Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii], and certainly the specialists in Defense Intelligence Agency’s Stony Beach, have the tough jobs in this vital mission, and we couldn’t do it without you. I wanted the opportunity, while so many of you are gathered in one place, to tell you how much we appreciate what you do.
I doubt that many of you here are old enough to remember a fellow named Will Rogers, but you undoubtedly know, he was a well-known American wit….
On one occasion, after Will returned from a trip to Europe during World War II, reporters met his ship, and asked him if he’d been concerned about meeting up with German subs on the voyage home. Rogers not only said, no, but told the newsmen he had a plan to get rid of those submarines. “How?” they asked.
“Simple,” Rogers replied. “All you have to do is heat the North Atlantic to the boiling point, and then when the water starts bubbling, the subs will rise out of the water and you can shoot ‘em down.” Well, you know reporters. They had to ask a follow-up question. “Just how, sir, do you propose to heat the North Atlantic?” they asked. And Rogers replied: “Don’t bother me with details. I just make the policy!”
As this conference attests, we’re not only going to bother DPMO with details, we’re going to ask for an even greater emphasis on policy. We’ve asked Jerry to take the lead in developing policy and integrating your efforts even further within the wider policy community. This integration is essential—it can’t be stressed enough. It’s essential. POW/MIA accounting is an integral part of our overall policy objectives.
I’d like to illustrate this with a brief story about an experience I had some 17 years ago, at the time I was serving in the State Department as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs. I traveled to Vietnam with Rich Armitage, who was then at the Defense Department and is now our Deputy Secretary of State, Dick Childress who was then at the NSC and is still actively involved, and Ann Mills Griffiths, who’s done so much to keep us focused and on track for so many years.
At that time, we were the most senior executive branch delegation to visit Vietnam since the end of the war, and we went with some real skepticism. In my case, that would be a gross understatement. In fact, Ann practically had to break my arm to get me to go. By the time we concluded our talks with senior Vietnamese officials in Hanoi, however we felt that we had made some progress. More importantly, we were confident that we were moving this issue in the right direction.
By the same token, it was also clear beyond a doubt that further progress would only come if we, as a country, maintained our sense of purpose, both in our future dealings with the Vietnamese government and in our policies here in Washington. Of course, the same principle is true for each government we deal with on this issue.
By the end of that trip that I’d initially viewed so skeptically, it was also clear that this humanitarian issue of accounting for Americans did open a real avenue for dialogue, one that can be pursued regardless of the prevailing political climate, even with a country as difficult as, for example, North Korea today. And, other countries have begun searching for their own war missing, following our lead. They’ve come to us, asking for help—countries like Russia, Bosnia and Kuwait, to name just three—all want the expertise that you demonstrate in each negotiation, each investigation, each recovery operation and each identification effort. You’ve not only set the bar higher in dealings with their own soldiers and citizens, you’re also giving us new common ground on which to strengthen our relationships.
This is an appropriate point to say how pleased I am to see members of other agencies here. All those years ago, that trip to Vietnam brought home the vital importance of inter-agency cooperation. I’m pleased to see members of our intelligence community here today, there is Johnny Kiehm, the DIA Chief of Staff — and it’s good that our DIA Director, VADM Jacoby, will be addressing you later today. It’s also good to have members of the State Department here. I see Ambassador Charley Ray [U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia] and Ambassador Doug Hartwick [U.S. Ambassador to Laos]; I want thank you for being here today. I know Rich Armitage and Jim Kelly look for opportunities to raise the POW/MIA issue—which should be standard procedure whenever we’re in contact with governments of nations in which we still have people missing. Whether in international fora, regional security meetings or bilateral discussions, we all should find ways to raise POW/MIA accounting and its fundamental importance.
As we’ve all learned over these many years, when the issue is treated as a separate humanitarian issue, we can continue to make progress—not only without jeopardizing any of our other policy goals, but in the end, perhaps, even opening further avenues.
When we consider North Korea in the current climate, we may recall a somewhat similar case. Back in the 1980s when Vietnam occupied Cambodia, we had neither diplomatic nor commercial relations with the Vietnamese government. Despite this apparent road block, we were still able to deal with them on POW/MIA. In fact, during this time we made some remarkable progress.
In dealing with North Korea, we must keep the lines open on this issue. In a humanitarian spirit of cooperation, we hope that leaders in Pyongyang—indeed leaders in every country where our people are missing—will respond, understanding that, as in times past, their cooperation on this issue can provide a bedrock of trust for the future, despite current differences. But should North Korea decide to halt cooperation, the burden should clearly be on their shoulders, not ours.
Quite simply, what you do every day is enormously important—on a policy level, as I’ve touched on, obviously on a humanitarian level, and it is of great importance to the men and women who wear our country’s uniform today.
I just returned from a trip to Afghanistan, where I visited some of our troops who are involved in a number of reconstruction projects, including building a hospital for women in Kabul.
It’s really quite extraordinary what they’ve been able to do to make lives better and in helping Afghans build a more stable country and a more promising future. I also visited the headquarters of European Command, whose men and women are involved in many missions—from maritime operations in the war on terror and peacekeeping operations in Bosnia to enforcing a no-fly zone in Iraq.
The brave men and women who serve today—whether in Afghanistan—northern Iraq-- and in other theaters of the war on terrorism—can do so with the full confidence that if they are captured, become missing or fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. That is our solemn pledge. However long it takes, whatever it takes, whatever the cost.
America’s service members think about this possibility. Ann’s told me that she’s gotten calls from people leaving for the Gulf and elsewhere telling her they’re grateful for the League and all those who search for missing servicemen. Ann’s also told me that contributions from active-duty military members during the recent CFC campaign allowed her to keep the League’s office going, going strong.
As men and women in uniform now deploy to the Gulf region, it is vital that they understand that as they venture into harm's way, we support them fully and will not rest until that pledge has been kept in full. We believe the Iraqi government knows more about Scott Speicher than they are telling—they most certainly know what happened at the crash site.
Today, we are committed to discovering his fate; and we’re doing everything possible within reason to get him back.
President Bush has repeatedly reaffirmed his personal commitment to the POW/MIA community. In his first Memorial Day address, after just a few months in office, the President singled out what he called “a special group of veterans, Americans still missing and unaccounted for from Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War and World War II.” In his words, “They deserve and will have our best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting and, alive or dead, to return them home to America.”
Those words of our President define our mission. And Jerry Jennings will help make sure our mission is carried out. Jerry is the President’s point man on the issue. It’s good to know who to point at—especially as Jerry leads DPMO to the next level. There will be challenges, no doubt about that. And, Jerry, I know that there may come a time when even you need some high-level intervention. So, I’m charging you today to let me know when and if you need my help. And if I can’t do it, I’ll carry the message to someone higher up who can.
Today, I’m here to encourage you in your task—to encourage you to take the time during your conference to find real consensus on the goals and resources you need to carry out your mission. I encourage you to focus on renewing interagency cooperation. And I encourage you to remember all that you’ve achieved, and what lies ahead, as the saying goes, in transforming our POW/MIA mission for the 21st century.
The work you do every day is tough yet delicate. That was brought home to me when I’d been in this job little more than a month. I was asked to speak at a memorial service for 16 people, you know many of them—seven Americans and nine Vietnamese—who’d been killed when their helicopter flew into the side of mountain where they’d been searching for missing Americans. One of the men killed, Lieutenant Colonel Rennie Cory, the detachment commander, had expressed how much his job meant to him when he told his father: “All of a sudden, you are here, and you have a mission to let a family know: you found him.”
Rennie was about to hand the reigns over to fellow passenger, Lieutenant Colonel “Marty” Martin, who’d said to his father on leaving for Vietnam, “Dad, I can’t wait to get over there,” so eager was he to take on the mission of bringing certainty and solace to families of other servicemen and all Americans still missing.
They died in a spirit of willing service because they understood how important it was for them to do that job. I have not forgotten their words or their example.
Our President and our Secretary of Defense understand how important your job is—to families, friends, to our men and women in uniform, and our country. Now is the time to double and redouble your efforts. You have friends in the right places. But we need your continued dedication. Thank you all so much.