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Deputy Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Pat Shanahan at the DoD National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony

As prepared for delivery by Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan, Pentagon River Terrace Parade Field, Sept. 15, 2017

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SENATOR BOOZMAN (Boze-man), COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR TROXELL, DIRECTOR MCKEAGUE (Mick-keg), AMBASSADOR BOWOLEKSONO (Boewoe-lek-sonoh), AMBASSADOR KYOTA (Key-ota), DISTINGUISHED GUESTS, DEVOTED VETERAN ADVOCATES, HONORED VETS, COURAGEOUS FAMILIES OF THE MISSING & FORMER PRISONERS OF WAR – WELCOME: 

ON BEHALF OF SECRETARY MATTIS, IT IS MY HONOR TO SHARE A FEW MOMENTS IN YOUR PRESENCE ON THIS PARADE FIELD TODAY, AS WE HONOR OUR FORMER POWS AND REMEMBER THE 83,000 AMERICANS STILL UNACCOUNTED FOR SINCE WORLD WAR II.

ACROSS AMERICA, THOUSANDS WILL DO LIKEWISE, GATHERING IN TOWN SQUARES & CITY PARKS, FIRE HALLS & LOCAL VFW & LEGION POSTS. WITH THEM, WE REAFFIRM PRESIDENT TRUMP’S WORDS WHEN HE PROCLAIMED TODAY NATIONAL POW / MIA RECOGNITION DAY. 
HE SAID:

- “WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE FULLEST POSSIBLE ACCOUNTING OF THOSE WHO HAVE NOT RETURNED, AND TO PROVIDING ANSWERS TO THEIR FAMILIES.”

IN SHORT, WE REFUSE TO FORGET. IN REFUSING, WE ACCEPT AN ENDURING RESPONSIBILITY AND COMMIT GENERATIONS AFTER US TO DO THE SAME. 

OUR WORK BEGAN MORE THAN 40 YEARS AGO, WHEN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF FAMILIES BROUGHT AMERICA’S ATTENTION TO THE PLIGHT OF THE MISSING AND THE PAIN OF THEIR LOVED ONES.

THEIR RESOLUTE WORK, ON BEHALF OF THE VIETNAM MISSING, WAS SOON TAKEN UP BY OTHERS AND EXTENDED TO THOSE MISSING FROM  WORLD WAR II, THE KOREAN WAR, AND THE COLD WAR.

WE ACKNOWLEDGE ALSO THE DEDICATED EFFORTS OF OTHER ADVOCATES, GROUPS LIKE THE VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS, THE AMERICAN LEGION, AMERICAN VETERANS, DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS – AND ALL VETERAN SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR UNWAVERING COMMITMENT AND COMPASSION FOR THE FAMILIES OF THE MISSING. 

- YOUR ADVOCACY, WISDOM & RESOLVE MAKES YOU VITAL TO THIS SACRED MISSION. YOU INSPIRE ALL OF US IN THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, AS THE AMERICAN FLAG WAVES, THE POW / MIA FLAG WILL FLY BENEATH IT, INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE TO MILLIONS OF AMERICANS. WE THANK THE LEAGUE FOR THAT. 

WITH TWO COLORS AND A SILHOUETTE, YOU GALVANIZED A GENERATION TO COMPASSIONATE ACTION FOR THIS COMMUNITY. YOU REFUSED TO FORGET. YOU ACCEPTED THE RESPONSIBILITY.

THIS PAST YEAR, THE DEFENSE POW / MIA ACCOUNTING AGENCY HAS MADE STRONG STRIDES IN ENSURING WE MEET THAT RESPONSIBILITY, TOO. 

WORKING IN COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD, THE AGENCY CONDUCTED 34 INVESTIGATIVE MISSIONS AND NO LESS THAN 40 RECOVERY MISSIONS, REPATRIATING AMERICANS LOST IN WWII, THE KOREAN WAR, AND THE VIETNAM WAR.  

AND SINCE LAST YEAR’S POW / MIA RECOGNITION DAY, THEY HAVE ACCOUNTED FOR 155 SERVICE MEMBERS WHO MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE. 

BY THEIR WORK, THE AGENCY’S DEVOTED MEN AND WOMEN, STRATEGIC PARTNERS, AND HOST NATIONS SECURED RECOGNITION AND FULL MILITARY HONORS FOR HEROES LIKE ALBERIC (Al-burr-EEK) BLANCHETTE, A 19 YEAR OLD BOY FROM CARIBOU, MAINE WHO SERVED AS A U.S. MARINE IN WORLD WAR II. 

- IF YOU LOOK AT HIS SERVICE PHOTOGRAPH, YOU’RE GRIPPED IMMEDIATELY BY PIERCING EYES AND A SPIRITED SMILE 

- ALBERIC (Al-burr-EEK) WAS KILLED IN COMBAT ON TARAWA (Tar-ah-wah) ATOLL, A TINY ISLAND IN THE CENTRAL PACIFIC IN 1943. 74 YEARS LATER, HE RETURNED HOME TO MAINE 

WE REFUSE TO FORGET ALBERIC (Al-burr-EEK) BLANCHETTE. 

THE AGENCY ALSO RECENTLY REPATRIATED THE REMAINS OF AIR FORCE CAPT. ROBERT E. HOLTON, 27, OF BUTTE, MONTANA TO HIS FAMILY AND HIS HOME. 

AN F-4 PILOT IN THE VIETNAM WAR, ROBERT WAS LOST ON AN ARMED RECONNAISSANCE MISSION OVER SOUTHERN LAOS ON JANUARY 29, 1969. 

- BETWEEN 1994 AND 2011, THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE CONDUCTED NINE INVESTIGATIONS AND EXCAVATED SITES IN BOTH VIETNAM AND LAOS IN ATTEMPTS TO BRING CAPTAIN HOLTON HOME

IN JANUARY, A JOINT U.S. – LAOTIAN TEAM RECOVERED ROBERT’S REMAINS. 

WHY DID WE GO TO SUCH LENGTHS? BECAUSE WE REFUSE TO FORGET ROBERT HOLTON.

AND JUST LAST MONTH, THE AGENCY ANNOUNCED IT HAD IDENTIFIED THE REMAINS OF MAX E. HARRIS OF     MONTICELLO (Mun-tuh-SEL-oh), INDIANA. 

- A 21-YEAR-OLD ARMY SERGEANT FROM THE HEARTLAND, MAX DEPLOYED WITH 3RD BATTALION, 31ST INFANTRY REGIMENT TO AN AREA EAST OF THE CHOSIN (Chosen) RESERVOIR IN KOREA IN LATE NOVEMBER 1950

- AFTER A FIERCE BATTLE, MAX WAS CAPTURED BY CHINESE FORCES. A YEAR LATER, EN ROUTE TO A PRISONER OF WAR CAMP, HE DIED

WE REFUSE TO FORGET MAX HARRIS.

DECADES LATER, PAINSTAKING RESEARCH AND SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS ENABLED THE AGENCY TO IDENTIFY MAX. THANKS TO SUCH TESTING, WE CAN NOW ENSURE NO SERVICE MEMBER EVER RETURNS HOME “UNKNOWN.” 

THE WORK IS FAR FROM COMPLETE. IT WILL GO ON WITH FERVOR. UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF DIRECTOR MCKEAGUE (Mick-keg), APPOINTED BY SECRETARY MATTIS JUST LAST WEEK, THE AGENCY WILL STRIVE DAILY TO FULFILL THIS SOLEMN RESPONSIBILITY. YOU HAVE OUR FULL COMMITMENT AND CONFIDENCE.

TO THOSE WHOSE HERO HAS NOT RETURNED…  WE KNOW THE HUMAN MIND UNDERSTANDS ALL THINGS IN THE FORM OF A STORY – A BEGINNING, A MIDDLE, AND AN END. WE KNOW YOUR HEARTS ACHE FOR THE STORY’S END.  

WE ARE DETERMINED TO HELP WRITE THAT ENDING WITH YOU. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

WHILE NO WORDS CAN TAKE AWAY YOUR PAIN, KNOW THAT YOUR SUFFERING HAS MEANING IF ACCEPTED OUT OF LOVE FOR THE MISSING. 

TO THE FAMILIES OF THE MISSING, THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR QUIET COURAGE WITH US. THANK YOU FOR STEADFASTLY WAITING FOR ANSWERS. 

TO ALL VETERAN SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS, THANK YOU FOR YOUR CEASELESS EFFORTS ON THEIR BEHALF. 

TO THE DEVOTED PROFESSIONALS OF THE DEFENSE POW / MIA ACCOUNTING AGENCY, THANK YOU FOR PERSEVERING TO FULFILL OUR NATION’S PROMISE. 

AND TO ALL FORMER POWs … WHO ENDURED … WHO WITHSTOOD THE FEAR, ANGUISH, AND PAIN … THANK YOU FOR YOUR POWERFUL INSPIRATION TO US TODAY. 

GOD BLESS YOU, YOUR FAMILIES & THE UNITED STATES.