Leaders Pledge Support to Bring Missing Servicemembers Home
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2008 On a small parade field at the steps of the Pentagon and across the river from the skyline of the nation’s capital, top military and political leaders today pledged to continue looking for missing servicemembers no matter the cost.
Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shakes hands with Doris Jones of American Legion Post 70 at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Washington, D.C. at the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 19, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Over the past 230-plus years, a promise has been made to the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England. “However long it takes. Whatever it takes. Whatever the cost. No American will be left behind.
“Every effort and attempt will be made to rescue and recover the captured and fallen and bring them home,” England said.
England joined a small group of senior DoD officials and congressional leaders, servicemembers and civilians, veterans and families who gathered at the river entrance on the east side of the Pentagon for the National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony.
Under partly cloudy skies, the short ceremony was packed with troops decked out in military dress uniforms, their chests full of glittering medals. Veterans donned their association caps. A handful of ex-POWs dotted the crowd with red jackets and hats poked with medals and unit insignia. Veteran bikers sported patriotic leathers. A cool breeze unfurled the brightly colored flags and streamers covering the grassy parade field as a military band belted out traditional tunes.
Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the crowd his first military memories as a child were associated with those servicemembers still not home from the Korean War.
More than 8,000 still are missing.
Cartwright said that in high school and college, he wore bracelets bearing the names of those not yet home from Vietnam. Some 1,800 servicemembers still are missing from the Vietnam War.
So for the families of those and the other 79,000 U.S. servicemembers still listed as missing, and to those serving in the two wars now, the nation’s second-highest-ranking military officer offered a promise.
“We have a solemn pledge that everyone comes home,” Cartwright said. “For families who sacrifice so much, and give their treasures, the youth of this nation, we have a debt to ensure that, no matter what, we will do everything within our power to ensure that everyone comes home.”
U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri said that those who sign up to serve expect some hardships – tough training, time away from families and combat. But those who are captured and held have had to endure beyond those expectations.
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been captured and held prisoner of war have experienced hardships we can barely imagine and frequently even they cannot bear to share with anyone,” Skelton said.
Skelton traveled in 1978 on a delegation to Vietnam to bring home the remains of 14 American soldiers killed in the war there.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” he said.
The congressman praised DoD efforts to recover and identify those still missing, especially the efforts of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, based in Hawaii.
One of a handful of offices within the Defense Department charged with recovering missing servicemembers, the JPAC is based in the U.S. Pacific Command and conducts 80 percent of its missions there. The command has 350 military and civilian staff members. Its research and recovery teams deploy on about 70 missions a year.
On any given day, investigative and recovery teams are deployed in some of the most remote regions around the world. Their work takes the teams deep into jungles and to the tops of mountains. They work on sites for up to two months at a time, taking on inhospitable living conditions, rough weather, poisonous snakes and insects and unexploded ordnance. Nine Americans have died in those missions.
“It’s impossible not to admire the skill, dedication and professionalism of those who work to bring our servicemembers home to their families,” Skelton said.
Skelton pledged continued support for the DoD’s efforts to recover and identify missing servicemembers to “ensure our nation never forgets.”
The congressman said nothing can repay the servicemembers and their families for their sacrifices.
But, “as a nation, we can and we must thank them for their willingness to pay the price required to ensure the nation’s freedoms,” he said.