POW/MIA Recognition Day
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Friday, September 18, 2009
Good morning. I too would like to thank you all for coming: veterans’ groups, MIA/POW organizations, leaders of the Department of Defense, and distinguished guests.
We pause today to remember, honor, and show solidarity with our troops who have been captured or gone missing in America’s wars – and to affirm that we will never forget our duty to bring them home.
The return of the remains of Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher, shot down in Iraq in the early hours of the Gulf War 18 years ago, closes a prolonged and terrible period for his family. It is a reminder of the burdens borne by tens of thousands of military families down the years.
No nation in history has gone to such care, expense, or effort to locate its fallen. U.S. government dive-and-salvage teams, forensic scientists, and investigators scour the globe to seek a full accounting. Here are some of the most recent results of their work: Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hopper, who died in 1968; Army Private David Woodruff, captured in1951 in Korea; and Army Air Forces Staff Sergeant Jimmie Doyle, who died in 1944 – all were returned to their families, this year, and buried with full military honors.
This work continues. We do it mindful of what we owe POW/MIAs and their loved ones. And we do it in affirmation of our strongest belief as a people: that every life is precious.
Our special guest today is Admiral Jeremiah Denton. In 1965, then-Commander Denton led an air attack on a military installation in North Vietnam. When his A-6 Intruder was shot down, he began what would turn out to be seven years and seven months in Vietnamese prison camps. He was brought before the press so that he would denounce his own country. He refused. What’s more, his blinking in the television lights was Morse code. He spelled out the word “torture,” confirming what was happening to American POWs at the hands of their captors. For his courageous resistance, he received the Navy Cross.
Back home, his wife, the late Jane Maury Denton, was keeping the faith. She was active on his behalf, and was among the first to band together with other citizens to form the advocacy groups we know today – helping to insure that the U.S. government pays attention and does everything it can to locate MIAs and help POWs during their captivity.
What Jeremiah Denton and his fellow prisoners experienced is testimony to how comrades-in-arms cope in the harshest of circumstances. As he later wrote: “Our little network bound us together in common cause, and gave us the power to resist beyond ordinary physical endurance. It was a tender bond of faith and love, and we saw for the first time the true fellowship of man.”
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you Admiral Jeremiah Denton.