DOD Reaffirms Commitment to POWs, MIAs

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)