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POW/MIA Recognition Ceremony
Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. , Friday, September 20, 2002

General Myers, thank you so much for those remarks and for your truly outstanding service to our country.

Congressman Johnson,

 

Senior Defense officials,

Rudy DeLeon, former Deputy Secretary of Defense – welcome back.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense -- and the man on this issue -- Jerry Jennings. Our thanks to you, Jerry, and to all the hard-working folks at DPMO for their tireless – and productive – efforts over the years; Jerry – know that we value all you do in the Defense POW Missing Persons Office.

Members of the Armed Forces and honored veterans who join us today;

Former Prisoners of War -- Would all the former POWs here today, please stand and be recognized. Thank you for your service. God bless you all and thank you so much.

Mrs. Ann Mills Griffiths and members of the National League of Families; families of Americans still missing from the Korean and Cold Wars; and representatives of all the many organizations who share our dedication to the return or recovery of American POWs and MIAs – thank you too for your efforts.

Distinguished Guests, and especially, the families and friends of the captured and still-missing whose strength and commitment are an inspiration to us all.

Would all the families of those still missing and unaccounted-for please stand and be recognized.

Thank you very much. And thank you all for coming. It is a privilege to welcome you to the Pentagon, and to be with you on this special day – the day America sets aside to recognize and remember every American, from every war, who is still a prisoner or missing in action.

To each of them we owe an unending debt of gratitude for the sacrifice they made, the pain they endured, and the hardships they suffered to ensure that the flame of freedom would never be extinguished.

Throughout the long history of our nation we have been blessed with heroes willing to sacrifice their freedom to protect and defend our own.

 

It is still so today. In foreign lands and on faraway seas, courageous military men and women are fighting to defend our country’s freedom. They do so knowing that should they fall on the field of battle, should they be captured or lost, we will do everything in our power to find them and bring them home. That is our pledge – to them, and to you.

For more years than most of us can remember, the POW/MIA families have been the standard for all of us to follow -- never abandoning hope, insisting that the world remember and respond, overcoming every obstacle placed in your path, including the most difficult obstacle of all: the passage of time.

In a message to Congress earlier this year, President Bush reaffirmed his continuing personal commitment to the POW/MIA community saying, "The central, guiding principle of my policy is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our prisoners of war and missing in action." Our Nation’s wars will not be over, he said, until this is achieved.

Our Commander-in-Chief spoke for us all. We remember and we re-dedicate ourselves to an accounting as full as is humanly possible, for America can never move forward as long as even one missing son or daughter is left behind.

Standing here, overlooking a city filled with monuments to those whose vision of liberty has become the beacon for much of the world, we are reminded that the greatest monument of all resides where God has placed it, and where no enemy on earth can ever take it from us: in our hearts.

Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do.

And now, it is my privilege to introduce Congressman Sam Johnson.

Before he began his current mission of service to the people of Texas, Congressman Johnson was a highly decorated Air Force pilot who saw combat in Korea and Vietnam. His 29-year career includes service as director of the famous "Top Gun" fighter weapons school, a member of the equally famous Thunderbirds precision flying team, and 62 combat missions over Korea.

And I’m told, during the Vietnam campaign, Congressman Johnson was shot down on his 25th combat mission. He spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war, including a year and a half in leg irons, and three and a half years in solitary confinement.

He has never stopped thinking of his fellow POWs. I’ve been advised that at one point, he memorized the names of over 360 of his fellow captives so that if he were ever released, he could ease the pain of their families. For two and a half years, his wife did not know his fate - only that he was missing in action.

His outstanding service earned him two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals, three Outstanding Unit Awards and, the undying gratitude of the American people.

We are honored to have you with us today.

Congressman Johnson.