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Commemoration of Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , The Pentagon , Monday, January 25, 1999

Doctors Stuart Rochester, Fred Kiley and Alfred Goldberg; Ambassador [Terry] McNamara was scheduled to be here but was unable to get back in time; Eugene Roskow was also scheduled to be here; distinguished guests; veterans and prisoners of the Vietnam War; families and friends.

Walter Lippmann once wrote that, "The American past can be brought alive again only by men who tell the majestic story once more, aware that they are making history, not merely writing history." Each fall, many of us come together on the grounds outside for National POW and MIA Recognition Day, to retell a sacred story, to renew our commitment to account for Americans missing on foreign fields and to remember the trials and triumphs of our prisoners of war.

Today we come together to honor two men have done more than write the history of those of you who served as prisoners of war during Vietnam. Doctor Rochester, Doctor Kiley, you have helped bring alive what you rightly describe as "one of the most compelling tales in the annals of men at war." Honor Bound is the product of more than twenty years of passion and perseverance. Doctors Rochester and Kiley began their mission soon after many of our POWs ended theirs during Operation Homecoming. And I should note that the two men who led that homecoming, Roger Shields and Frank Sieverts, honor us with their presence today.

The research and writing behind Honor Bound ranged from painstaking to painful. A Vietnam veteran himself, Doctor Kiley’s research included brief exposure to some of the same methods our men endured, including the notorious "rope treatment." Such dedication, when fused with the pen of Stuart Rochester and the guiding hand of OSD Historian Alfred Goldberg, has produced a work that is at once inspiring and scholarly.

 

This is neither the first book, nor will it be the last, to chronicle the bravery in the camps of Southeast Asia, but it may be the most comprehensive and, I suggest, the most candid. This is the story of how men with names such as Barrows and Hoffman and Hanton found themselves in hellholes with names such as the Zoo, the Hilton, Alcatraz and Briarpatch. This is the story of extraordinary men overcoming ordinary frailties and fears; heroes not diminished, but rather distinguished by their humanity.

Descartes said that great works are "like a conversation with the finest men of the past." To read this work is to converse with the finest men of our generation, men of honor who were advisors and airmen at dawn and prisoners by dusk; some who never returned from behind those bamboo walls; others such as Red McDaniel and Mike McGrath who returned with honor after enduring unbelievable torment of body and spirit.

Honor Bound is a conversation with men of hope. We marvel as the likes of Dick Bolstad and Mike McManus display great ingenuity in the face of great risk to keep up communication between the cells and keep up the faith. We watch as our POWs prove that they alone were the "masters of their fate and the captains of their souls."

Honor Bound is a conversation with men of humor, whose wit was a weapon. Such as when Paul Galanti subverted an elaborate propaganda film with the now-famous scene in which he flashed what we will simply call today the defiant salute of a single finger. Or when Don Rander, when pressed by his captors, offered an entire roster of American names -- the roster of the 1951 World Series Dodgers.

Honor Bound is a conversation with men of history -- the longest captivity of any prisoners of war in U.S. history; a noble class that bears a badge of honor, not on their sleeves, but in their souls.

Doctors Rochester and Kiley close this conversation with these words: "The company of men who walked the Hanoi March; trekked the Ho Chi Minh Trail at the point of the bayonet; and battled the enemy from Briarpatch to Dogpatch survived the jails and jungles of Southeast Asia against great odds. They were endowed with qualities of the heart, grace and courage that in the end mattered more than their relatively high ranks."

To those of you who survived the cells of Southeast Asia against the odds, for your great grace and courage; to Doctors Rochester and Kiley, for telling their story as it was meant to be told. On behalf of the Department of Defense and a grateful nation, thank you for all you have done in to serve our country.