Pentagon Ceremony Salutes Former POWs, Missing in Action
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2009 A group of senior U.S. officials today paid homage to servicemembers who have been prisoners of war or are listed as missing in action during an observance ceremony on the Pentagon’s River Terrace parade field.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during the National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 18, 2009. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Proclaiming today as National POW/MIA Recognition Day, President Barack Obama issued a statement urging Americans “to observe this day of honor and remembrance with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
The Pentagon ceremony, which featured a passing-in-review by troops of all services and aerial flyovers, is part of nationwide activities observing National POW-MIA Recognition Day, typically held annually on the third Friday of September. About 88,000 U.S. servicemembers are recorded as missing or unaccounted for since World War II.
“We pause today to remember, honor, and show solidarity with our troops who have been captured or gone missing in America’s wars,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, “and to affirm that we will never forget our duty to bring them home.”
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired Navy Rear Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., a former U.S. senator from Alabama and a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, joined Gates at the reviewing stand.
“No nation in history has gone to such care, expense or effort to locate its fallen,” Gates said. U.S. government dive-and-salvage teams, forensic scientists and investigators travel worldwide seeking a full accounting of missing servicemembers, he said.
For example, Gates said, the remains of three previously missing servicemen -- Air Force Lt. Col. Earl Hopper, who died in 1968; Army Pvt. David Woodruff, captured in Korea in 1951; and Army Air Force Staff Sgt. Jimmy Doyle, who died in 1944 -- were returned to their families this year and buried with full military honors.
And, Gates said, the remains of missing Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher were discovered last month in Iraq and returned to his family for burial. Speicher was an aviator who was shot down over Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
The work continues to find missing servicemembers and return them to their families, Gates said.
“We do it mindful of what we owe POW/MIAs and their loved ones,” he said. “And, we do it in affirmation of our strongest belief as a people: that every life is precious.”
Cartwright, too, pledged that the nation will do all that’s possible to find its missing servicemembers.
“Our lessons learned from past conflicts provide opportunities to improve accounting efforts for the future,” Cartwright said. And, he said, advances in forensics technology and technique will be passed along to future generations of searchers.
Gates and Cartwright both saluted Denton’s service to the nation and his sacrifice. A naval aviator, Denton was shot down over North Vietnam on July 18, 1965. His captors frequently tortured him during his nearly eight years as a prisoner. They released him Feb. 12, 1973.
During his imprisonment in North Vietnam, Denton gained fame and enduring respect from his fellow Americans during a television interview arranged by the North Vietnamese, who thought the captured Navy pilot would support their cause.
Denton instead refused to denounce U.S. efforts in the war and repeatedly blinked his eyes in Morse Code, spelling the word, “T-O-R-T-U-R-E.” The interview was broadcast on American TV on May 17, 1966, and was the first confirmation that the enemy was torturing U.S. POWs in Vietnam.
Gates praised Denton’s “courageous resistance” to his captors’ aims. Denton received the Navy Cross upon his release from captivity.
Denton spoke of his pride for the men and women in the military; and he touched upon the death of his wife of 61 years, Jane Maury Denton, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2007.
Denton praised his wife’s steadfastness and loyalty to the nation during his years of captivity, noting that she, like him, didn’t “want to swap any means that was advantageous to the enemy to get us home.”
America’s servicemembers, Denton said, belong to a unique class.
“Our men and women in uniform have answered the call and have shown and continue to show that they’re willing to defend our country at the risk of their lives,” Denton said. “All of us here today salute POWs, MIAs, their families and all veterans.”
Without such service, Denton said, the United States “could not remain the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The black-and-white POW-MIA banner, according to a White House news release, will be flown today over the White House, the Capitol, the departments of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs and at a number of other U.S. government-managed agencies and institutions.
“Our nation maintains a solemn commitment to leave no servicemember behind,” Obama said in the release. “Our men and women in uniform uphold this pledge every day, and our country further upholds it as we honor every man and woman who serves, particularly those taken as prisoners of war or missing in action.
“We will never cease in our mission to bring America’s missing servicemembers home; we will never forget the sacrifices they made to keep this nation free; and we will forever honor their memory,” Obama said.