General Says Family Members Keep Search for Missing Servicemen Alive
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., July 11, 2003 Families of service members still missing from the Vietnam War are "the essence of America's strength," according to the general in charge of finding those missing troops.
"Without your determination, we wouldn't be here today," Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven J. Redmann told members of the National League of Families, an organization for family members of those still missing, during the group's recently completed annual conclave here. The group is dedicated to bringing every service member home.
Redmann is commander of Joint Task Force Full Accounting, the Hawaii-based organization responsible for searching for and identifying remains of missing service members.
He told the family members that without their dedication "many Americans would still be missing and unaccounted for from our nation's past conflicts. The National League of Families has been the voice of America for finding the missing from the Vietnam War and, subsequently, all of our nation's past conflicts."
The general called addressing these family members the most difficult speech he has ever given. "I'm not a Vietnam veteran -- the family members are. I've not suffered the loss of a loved one -- ... you, the family members have," Redmann said. "I've not waited years and years for answers -- unfortunately, you, the family members have."
He thanked them for being loyal Americans and for keeping POW/MIA organizations accountable. The general emphasized that the fullest possible accounting mission is now a permanent part of DoD, the State Department and the nation.
"Those wearing the uniform today owe the family members a great debt of gratitude for your intense dedication, staunch loyalty and continuing commitment to our fullest possible accounting mission," Redman said. "You have given more than most Americans ever will; you've lost your loved ones in service to our nation."
Through several changes in administration, government policies and DoD practices over the years, "you've remained steadfast in your hopes and anticipation that answers, comfort and closure would come," Redmann said.
He noted that over the years, the remains of a few missing servicemen have come home. "You continue to wait," Redmann continued. "Sadly, 1,874 Americans still remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War."
Calling sports figures, movie stars and recording artists heroes is a "bankrupt philosophy," Redmann said. "These people are not heroes in any sense of the word, but simply people that have gained the public spotlight.
"A hero is one noted for nobility of purpose, one with great courage and strength, or one celebrated for bold exploits," Redmann said. "That definition could have been written about you. You are an immense source of pride and encouragement for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and government civilians who go to Southeast Asia in search of your loved ones."
He noted that task force recovery team members jump from hovering helicopters and climb steep slopes in triple-canopy jungles in Vietnam to find a single witness to the fate of a missing American. Among other things, they have rappelled on a rope 600 feet down the side of Phou Pha Thi Mountain in Laos to find Americans' remains.
"They do this mission because of you and for you -- you the family members," Redmann noted.
Family members will never hear a "thanks" from every service member or civilian employees at DoD and State Department, "but you should," he said.
"You ensure that we do it right," he said. "You ask the tough questions, present new ideas and hold us to task by questioning how and why we do things. You're the government's watchdogs. And quite frankly, that's precisely what is needed."