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Secretary of Defense Speech

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

Thank you, General Hokanson. Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this important occasion.

I’m especially honored to welcome Colonel Mike Brazelton, an accomplished Air Force pilot who spent more than six years in captivity in Vietnam. Colonel Brazelton, your monumental courage and sacrifice inspire us all. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time with you this morning. There’s a rumor out there that Colonel Brazelton actually conducted a parachute jump yesterday or earlier this week. I confirm that that rumor is true, so he’s still very active. I’d also like to recognize your daughter, Adriana, who’s carrying on your legacy of military service.

We’re also joined today by ambassadors of partner nations whose support has been invaluable in searching for and recovering our missing. So thanks to all of you for being here. We are tremendously grateful for your support. And welcome to the Pentagon.

To the family members of those who are still missing: You have shown unimaginable strength amid terrible uncertainty. Please know that your loved ones are always in our hearts. And we are humbled by your fortitude through the long years of waiting.

Every year on National POW/MIA Recognition Day, we gather to honor American service members who were taken captive—to stand with the families of the missing and unaccounted for, and to renew our commitment to bring home our missing heroes.

Just a few days ago, we saw how much this solemn mission matters—as one American family got the chance to honor the heroic service of a loved one.

In 1943, an Army Air Corps lieutenant colonel named Addison Baker was leading his pilots in a low-flying attack on enemy-controlled oil fields in Romania. As he neared his target, the enemy hit him with an anti-aircraft shell.

His plane was burning and damaged, and he could have chosen to land. But Colonel Baker was determined to complete the mission. So he kept going until he hit his target. But afterward, his damaged plane tragically crashed into the town below.

The following year, Colonel Baker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor. And we’re proud to have his name on the wall right here in the Hall of Heroes.

Now, the Department never gave up on recovering his remains. And nearly eight decades after his daring mission, scientists at Offutt Air Force Base used innovative forensic techniques to identify him.

And so this week, his family got to say a proper goodbye—and to bury Colonel Baker at Arlington. And we have some of Colonel Baker’s family here with us. We welcome you to the Pentagon. And I absolutely enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with you earlier today. Thanks for your sacrifices, your patience, your determination, your great example of persistence.

[Applause]

We all know how much this moment means to you and your family, and we couldn’t be prouder to be here with you today. So thanks for sharing this day with us.

Now, over the years, thousands of families have had the chance to honor loved ones who had been imprisoned or missing. And that’s because of the dedicated work by public servants in this Department and the service organizations that work alongside them. 

But we know that we have more work to do—a lot more work to do. And as you heard General Hokanson say earlier, more than 81,000 American service members and civilians remain unaccounted for. And the experts at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency say that nearly half of those may be recoverable.

This is a monumental task—but it’s also a sacred obligation. Because everyone who serves in the United States military makes a solemn commitment to this country—and their families do as well. And this country makes a solemn promise to them in return: to provide the fullest possible accounting for anyone who goes missing in the line of duty. And it’s our solemn obligation to do right by those who sacrifice to defend our security and our democracy.

And so I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who works so hard to honor that commitment. Our experts at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency work in 46 countries. They painstakingly search for remains, then use cutting-edge forensic testing and techniques to identify the missing.

Our partners around the globe lend vital support—including former foes that have become friends. And family and veterans’ service organizations, many of them here today, shine a spotlight on this important cause and help us fulfill our pledge to those who have served. These efforts combine innovation and skill with compassion and unwavering resolve—all to ensure that America fulfills this sacred promise.

Over the past year, the Department has identified more than 150 missing individuals, including Colonel Baker.

And behind each successful identification is a family’s story. These are stories of pain and uncertainty—but also of hope and endurance and relief when long-sought answers are finally found.

The black-and-white flag that we fly in honor of our POWs and MIAs bears a simple but powerful message to the families of those still missing, to all those who serve, and to our nation.

And that message is that we will never forget. We will never give up hope. And we will never stop working to find answers and to bring home our missing.

And to all those who were taken captive and have come home: You have borne unspeakable hardship with resilience and patriotism. We are enormously grateful.

And to all the families of the captured and missing: Your strength and your faith inspire us every day.

Thank you to all who sacrifice so much to keep this country safe, and to ensure that we keep our most sacred pledge to the men and women who serve.

May God bless you, and may God bless continue the United States of America.

Thank you very much.

[Applause]