WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2011 — No one has matched the United States’ time, resources and commitment to accounting for its missing military members and honoring its prisoners of war, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
During a Pentagon ceremony to honor National Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Recognition Day, the defense secretary talked about the nation’s commitment to accounting for its missing patriots and honoring prisoners of war.
“Today, as we honor those who have been in prison and those missing while defending our nation, we also honor their family members, the brave men and women who have kept those memories of their loved ones burning bright and who have never stopped pushing this nation, and its leaders, for the closure that they deserve,” Panetta said.
“We do this because we believe that every life is precious,” he continued, “and because those who put their lives on the line for their country need to know that we will spare no effort to bring them home.”
The defense secretary talked about the Defense Department’s resolve to find missing service members.
“Over the years, slowly, methodically, we have been making progress in this effort,” Panetta said. “Six hundred men and women of this department, military and civilian, investigators and scientists, work tirelessly around the world to fully account for the more than 80,000 American service members who remain unaccounted for … from last century’s conflicts.”
Panetta said this “painstaking” work is being carried out in the field and in laboratories in the United States.
“Because of these efforts, the remains of 98 missing American service members have been identified in the past year — 25 from the Vietnam War, 36 from the Korean War, 36 from World War II and one from World War I,” he said.
“That’s 98 more families who now have closure and the knowledge that their nation did not forget them,” Panetta added, noting the passage of time didn’t “dampen our resolve to locate and identify their loved ones.”
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke in honor of “142,000 Americans who have served our country as prisoners of war and the many thousands who are still missing.”
“You have given so much in wearing the cloth of our nation,” he said. “You who have shown what it means to be an American when the chips are down and one must personally pay for that privilege. You should know that this nation is keenly aware of, and ever thankful, for your sacrifice.”
Winnefeld addressed families of former POWs and those missing in action.
“I know I speak for everyone here when I tell you how truly grateful we are for your sacrifices,” he said. “The uncertainty, concern and fear you have felt — and many still feel for the fate of your loved ones.”
“As former [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates said, ‘Your presence today proves, once again, that the bonds of love transcend the passage of time,’ ” Winnefeld said.
Panetta reaffirmed the DOD’s commitment to the families of those missing and encouraged everyone to support them.
“It should be all of us, as one family and one nation,” he said. “Pledge on this day, and every day, that as long as it takes to bring every American home, we will never stop working, we will never stop searching, and we will never stop thinking of those lost warriors.
“We will never forget those who have sacrificed for our freedoms and our values,” Panetta added. “That is why this country is the greatest country on Earth.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)