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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks at National POW/MIA Recognition Day (As Delivered)

Mr. Mills, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. Thanks for being here.

Good morning, everyone. General Hyten, thanks for the kind introduction and for being here today to mark this special occasion.

It’s also great to see Secretary Denis McDonough from the Department of Veterans Affairs and so many friends and partners of the Department of Defense. Thanks for being here.

We’re all here because of a shared commitment.

On National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we come together as a nation to honor all those who served, and all those who were held captive and returned home, and to pay tribute to those who remain unaccounted for, and to stand by all of our POW and MIA families.

We know that the missing and the returned are in the hearts of their families and loved ones—today and every day. They are in our hearts as well.

I’m honored to welcome to the Pentagon former POWs and their loved ones and family members of those missing in action. We’re humbled by your sacrifice and your resilience. So thanks for being here with us.

We still feel the pain of those missing from conflicts fought generations ago, and we share the uncertainty that many of you endure.  We also thank you for your advocacy and involvement in our work to recover our fallen and our missing.

Today, more than 81,900 U.S. personnel remain unaccounted for—including more than 72,000 from World War II, more than 7,500 from the Korean War, and more than 1,500 from the Vietnam War. Many of the missing are lost deep at sea. But our experts estimate that some 38,000 may be recoverable.

So we still have a lot of work to do. And we see each case as a sacred pact.

While I was in Hawaii last April, I visited with our team at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. And it absolutely astounded me to see firsthand the lengths that they go through to identify and to return to families the remains of so many of our fallen from so many conflicts overseas.

 It is painstaking work, and in some cases it is dangerous. But they know how much it means to you and to our fellow citizens. They do it with care and with compassion, but also with a deeply felt desire to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives defending this nation.

This year alone, DPAA has accounted for 135 U.S. personnel: one from the Vietnam War, 13 from the Korean War, and 121 from World War II. And in the past six years, DPAA has identified 352 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma, which as you know was sunk in Pearl Harbor.

And just this past Monday, on September 13th, Army Sergeant John Phillips was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, decades after he died in a POW camp in the Philippines. After so many years of uncertainty, we were honored and moved to have his family join us as he was laid to rest and received the honors that he deeply deserved.

In July, another MIA family gathered at Arlington. Army Major Harvey Storms was killed in December 1950 in one of the harshest battles of the Korean War. His remains were turned over by North Korea in 2018 and identified by DPAA. Major Storms had four sons—including his youngest, who was born after his father went missing. And all of his sons were at Arlington with their families when Major Storms was finally laid to rest.        

And then there is Naval Reserve Commander Paul Charvet. Now, he was an A-1H Skyraider pilot whose plane was shot down over Vietnam in March 1967.  Last September, a Vietnamese team recovered his remains, and DOD scientists identified him this past March, bringing his family long-awaited answers.

You know, in a sense, that’s what we still seek: answers to simple questions.

Where are they?

And when can they come home?

That’s why we fly the black-and-white flag of the National League of POW/MIA Families.  And that’s why we commemorate this special day.

To remember.

To remember the fallen, the captured, and the missing.

To remember the families who still wait for them.

And to remember our solemn duty to answering those simple questions and to bringing home those who left these shores so long ago.

The flag’s message is still a call to arms: You are not forgotten. And it’s on all of us to make sure that our missing and their families know it.

So let me again thank the families and loved ones, those here with us today, and those who are joining us virtually. You have faced absence, you have faced uncertainty, and you have faced loss. And we are inspired by the strength that you’ve shown, day in and day out.

We will always honor the service and the sacrifice that your loved ones have given our great country.

We stand with you, and we always will.

Thank you, and God bless you.