Admiral Fargo, you’re a tough act to follow. Allow me to thank you for your strong leadership in the Pacific region, of our men and women in uniform and in this important cause. And thank you Joanne [Shirley, Chairman of the Board] and Ann [Mills Griffiths, Executive Director]. Thank you for everything that you and the members of the League continue to do to keep the focus on our unfinished business in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. I’m pleased to see members of our Armed Forces who are doing such a wonderful job defending our country today.
It’s hard to believe, but I think it’s been some 20 years now since my first League dinner. And the strength of devotion that’s apparent among the family members of our missing servicemen and the friends who support this noble cause never fails to inspire me.
The brave men and women who are serving today in Afghanistan and Iraq and other theaters in the war on terrorism can do so with full confidence that if they should fall in battle, this nation will spare no effort to bring them home. That’s our solemn pledge. However long it takes, wherever it takes us, whatever the cost. Jerry Jennings [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Prisoners of War and Missing Personnel] will make sure of that—and all the fine and dedicated people who are working for him here and around the globe. And, of course, the League will make sure of that, too.
But, I would add that you don’t have to worry about the involvement, the determination or the commitment of your government to bring our missing Americans home. I know that’s the heart of the strong message Jerry delivered on behalf of President Bush to the government of Vietnam a couple weeks ago. We are committed—committed to accounting as fully as possible for your missing loved ones. Ann often says that the League’s business is to go out of business. I would add that we would like nothing more than to hasten that day.
Now, I have another very important message that Jerry has asked me to share with you. It’s a little surprise … and it’s for you, Ann. That’s assuming it’s possible to get anything by Ann. It’s a message from a gentleman whose name will be familiar to everyone here … a leader at the very highest level of government, and a great friend to the League.
"Dear Ms. Griffiths:
Congratulations on your more than 25 years of service as the Executive Director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
I commend your work on behalf of service members who were prisoners of war and missing in action during the Vietnam War. Through your leadership, the League has established the importance of the Vietnam War POW/MIA accounting effort. This effort has also become a source of hope to the families of loved ones who served in World War II, the Cold War, and the Korean War. Your work to support the brave individuals who were willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than self reflects the true spirit of America.
May God bless you, and may God continue to bless America and all who defend her.
George W. Bush"
What do you say, Ann … did we manage to slip one by you?
I don’t think it will come as any surprise that I am in complete agreement with our Commander in Chief. And if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’m going to amplify the President’s comments—briefly, I promise. But, if my comments are brief, my appreciation and admiration for my friend Ann Mills Griffiths are profound.
For as long as I've known Ann, which is nearly 20 years now—she was just a girl when she began all this—for as long as I’ve known Ann, she’s been educating me and others in positions of responsibility about our obligation to America’s missing. And while Ann has a way of making that enormous job look easy, it almost never is. But it’s a job she’s never shied away from.
A mutual friend, former Congressman Steve Solarz, once invoked Harry Truman’s famous observation to describe Ann—it’s the one that goes, "if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." To that he added, "Ann has stayed in the kitchen. And I’m proud to consider myself part of her kitchen cabinet." I’m proud to be part of that cabinet, too. But, I think it’s fair to say that, in Ann’s kitchen, she may have been known to turn up the heat once in a while … ever so slightly.
And it’s because she’s been willing to do just that that she’s been so successful in making the accounting for America’s POWs and MIAs one of our nation’s highest priorities. Her leadership, determination and dedication have enriched this organization and helped countless families find closure and peace--and for those still waiting … hope.
Ann’s indomitable spirit has helped prove an even more remarkable fact: over time, things can change—even in Washington.
So, please raise your glasses and join me in a toast: to a remarkable woman whose unshakable dedication to a truly noble cause—the fullest possible accounting of our nation’s missing—has helped countless Americans in their search for answers … and has made America itself wiser, stronger and better. To Ann.