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Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks' Remarks at the Pentagon POW/MIA Observance Ceremony

Good morning. It is my honor to observe this important occasion with each of you here today.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging our distinguished guests and members of the international diplomatic corps in the audience this morning. This includes U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper, who is just back from Hanoi where he helped shepherd an historic visit by President Biden.

For the past 50 years, the United States and Vietnam have worked together to account for Americans missing from the Vietnam War, beginning with the return of 591 prisoners of war. Without the mutual cooperation between our two nations, we would not be able to support the robust and sustained operations to recover U.S. personnel—operations that have helped to return 733 U.S. service members and civilians home to their families.

Today, the Department's commitment to the fullest possible accounting of our missing personnel extends back to World War II.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and its predecessors have managed the recovery, identification, and return of thousands of our missing personnel to their families who have long sought answers.

Sustaining these operations is no small task. It takes cooperation on a global scale. We are grateful for the 45 nations who partner with us on this mission to search for and recover our missing from theaters around the world. And we're joined today by ambassadors and defense attachés from some of those allied and partner nations with whom we collaborate on these efforts.

This effort also includes supportive private individuals and groups, and I want to acknowledge all of you are represented here today.

Folks like retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major Justin LeHew, an Iraq War veteran and Navy Cross recipient, who last year completed a 3,365-mile walk from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon, to raise awareness about DPAA's mission.

And just today, he completed a 270-mile march from Bedford, Virginia, right here to this parade field. Thank you, Sergeant Major LeHew for your efforts to help find your comrades in arms.

And finally, I'd like to recognize the families of the missing.

We know that enduring this grief and uncertainty throughout the years is difficult. Please know that your missing family members are not forgotten. The DPAA works tirelessly to find answers for you year in and year out. And each year we gather on this National POW/MIA Recognition Day to assure you that we remember them, and we will not give up on our mission to account for them. So, thank you all for being here and for keeping the faith.

Already this year, the DPAA has accounted for 123 missing personnel. Members like Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant Fred Brewer, of North Carolina.

During World War II, Lieutenant Brewer was part of the esteemed African-American fighter pilot unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

More than seven decades ago, Brewer departed Ramitelli Air Base in Italy, to escort bombers to their targets in Germany.

On the way, his bomber group encountered heavy clouds. Lieutenant Brewer attempted a steep rise above them, but his engine stalled, causing his plane to crash.

Until last month, he was one of the 26 Tuskegee Airmen whose whereabouts remained unknown. A rosette will now be placed next to his name on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery to indicate that he has been accounted for.

Today, we are honored to have his cousin, Brenda Brewer, in the audience with us. Thank you for being here, Brenda. I hope that Lieutenant Brewer's recovery has brought some measure of peace to you and your family.

Our success in these accounting missions would not be possible without our partners across the globe.

In April 2021, the Republic of Korea's ministry for finding missing personnel came across remains near the hill where Americans went missing during a battle in April 1951. The remains were carefully exhumed and sent to a lab for testing. The following October, the ministry turned over those remains to DPAA. After DPAA sent the remains to its own lab for analysis, it was able to identify U.S. Army Sergeant Stanley Turba. Soon, his daughter, Sandra, will welcome him home more than 72 years after he went missing in the Korean War. 

And finally, this year, the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and I'd like to recognize it for its longstanding, mutual cooperation.

During the height of COVID-19, when restrictions prevented our DPAA from traveling to Vietnam, its teams, trained by the DPAA, traveled to multiple sites looking for the remains of American personnel. In March 2021, the team visited a crash site of a 1969 F-4—a two-seater aircraft—in Quang Nam Province. There, they recovered the remains of two Americans—those of U.S. Air Force Colonel Ernest DeSoto and Captain Frederick Hall. Colonel DeSoto was given a dignified burial in June, and Captain Hall will finally be laid to rest next month, on October 10th.

These are several of the many stories of those recovered and returned to their families—stories of sacrifice, hope, and resolve.

For you families of the missing, please know your strength motivates us each day as we do this work and follow through on our solemn and unwavering commitment to achieve the fullest accounting possible of our missing personnel.

Thank you.

It is now my distinct privilege to introduce our next speaker.

Colonel Michael Brazelton is a retired Air Force pilot and four-time Silver Star recipient who was held captive for more than six years in a Vietnamese prison.

I'll let him tell us his harrowing story, but I will say this: Colonel Brazelton, your incredible courage, fortitude, and patriotism is an inspiration to us all.

It is an honor to have you, your wife, Gloria, and your oldest daughter, Army Lieutenant Colonel Adriana Brazelton, with us today.

Let's please give Colonel Brazelton a warm welcome.