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National POW-MIA Recognition Day
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, , Friday, September 18, 1998

Ambassadors [Jim] Bolger [New Zealand] and [Banny] deBroom [Marshall Islands], Members of Congress, Secretary [Togo] West, Secretary [Luis] Caldera, General [Dennis] Reimer, Colonel and Mrs. [Norman] McDaniel and their son Chris, veterans, Janet, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

In 1984 President Reagan said America would never abandon its efforts to account for those missing-in-action. "We write no last chapters," he said. "We close no books. We put away no final memories."

 

That commitment took us back to the green grass and the marble monuments of Arlington Cemetery this spring. We disturbed the hallowed ground of the Tomb of the Unknowns with profound reluctance. But we took that somber step to identify the Vietnam Unknown, to ease the lingering anguish of an American family and to fulfill our abiding commitment to provide the fullest possible accounting of every warrior who fought and died to preserve the freedoms we cherish.

That same commitment takes us to far away lands every day; lands where the roar and rumble of battle have long since faded. It takes us to remote graves and crash sites, where dedicated teams of Americans strain the mud and sift the dirt. They know that even the very smallest clue might help bring home one more American.

We carry on this noble work in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. We go to the forests of New Guinea, to the heights of the Himalayas, to the hard ground of North Korea, to the mountains of southern China and even to the depths of the Norwegian Sea. And at this very moment we even have a team in Germany in the hope of bringing home a B-24 bomber crew from World War II.

Now some may ask why we go to such lengths, why we do this for the dead. We do it because we are committed to all of our warriors, present and past. We are committed to their families, whose pain has endured for decades. America’s fallen heroes did not face the horror of battle for us to turn away from their sacrifice. They did not fight for us to forget.

On this day we also honor those who served America as prisoners-of-war. They answered the call of duty even when it meant unending days of dark cells and squalid camps. This year’s commemoration also marks a special milestone -- the 25th Anniversary of the return of our POWs from Southeast Asia.

I think the emotion and relief of Operation Homecoming are forever etched in our minds. The cheers of our men as they were lifted up from North Vietnam for the last time aboard a C-141, the so-called "Hanoi Taxi." That unforgettable photo of a daughter and her father, arms outstretched, running across the tarmac in the Philippines. The hundreds of homecomings in small towns and big cities.

I had the honor of standing with some of these former POWs in the shadow of the Hanoi Taxi just four months ago during our celebration of Armed Forces Day. That plane and its brave passengers, like their comrades from all wars who join us today, remind us: freedom is never free. Its currency is the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, and few have paid a higher price in the name of duty than America’s former prisoners-of-war. It is now our duty, as the beneficiaries of the freedom we continue to enjoy, to never forget their service.

So I am pleased to announce that the Department of Defense is publishing a full-length history of the remarkable experience of our Vietnam POWs. This account, entitled Honor Bound, secures their rightful place high on the rolls of U.S. servicemen and women who have distinguished themselves while in enemy hands. It will be a powerful testament for posterity.

One of those who endured the trials and trauma as a prisoner-of-war during Vietnam joins us today. Janet and I first met Colonel Norman McDaniel and his wife Jean this spring, when they joined us in Norfolk for our celebration of 50 years of racial integration in the Armed Forces. I am grateful they could be with us again today.

In 1966, then-Captain McDaniel’s reconnaissance plane was shot down over North Vietnam. That began a period of six years of confinement, the "never-ending" years as he later called them, in that unspeakable squalor of hellholes known as the Hanoi Hilton and the Zoo.

Ladies and gentlemen, for over six years, his diet was mostly rice and swamp water. For six years, he endured isolation, interrogations and torture. But he and his fellow POWs had a motto: "We fight from within, and we return with honor."

Captain McDaniel was one of only a handful of African-Americans held as a prisoner at the time. The North Vietnamese tried to exploit examples of racism in our country to drive a wedge between Norman McDaniel and America. He refused. His captors had misjudged the courage of this man and the strength of the nation that produced him.

After five years in captivity, at the depths of despair, he wrote some words that I think still capture the full power of his quiet strength: "I’m still a man though I’m badly bent. I’ll hope and strive until my life is spent."

Captain McDaniel did indeed return with honor and his story inspires us to this day. Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly my great privilege to introduce to you a man who has spent his life in brave and proud service to America, Colonel Norman McDaniel.