WASHINGTON — Standing in front of rows of sharply dressed troops today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscored the Defense Department’s commitment to bringing every missing servicemember home.
“For our nation’s missing, we must close the gap,” the secretary said. “We must find the fallen. Your love for them will never die, and their country’s efforts to get them home will never cease.”
Gates joined a group of military and civilian leaders, veterans and families on the east side of the Pentagon for a National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony. A sea of family members and supporters filled several rows; their badges prominently displaying a missing or recovered loved one’s name.
The nation is sparing no effort to locate and identify the remains of those servicemembers who have not returned home, Gates said. Every day, he said, American service personnel and civilian experts around the world are working toward this end. These activities have intensified in scope and sophistication throughout the years, he added.
Since last year’s ceremony, Defense Department teams have accounted for 66 formerly missing Americans, Gates said, including 15 from the Vietnam War, 16 from the Korean War, 34 from World War II and one from World War I.
“This is slow and painstaking work,” he said. “We pursue it doggedly. The missing and their families deserve no less.”
Gates also underscored his commitment to today’s servicemembers, who he said are selflessly choosing to serve in a time of war.
“We must never grow complacent when it comes to protecting and accounting for our men and women on the front lines, given the nature of the conflicts we are in and the enemy we face, one not known for taking or keeping prisoners,” Gates said. “Our adversaries are on notice.”
Just as the United States is committed to upholding the laws of armed conflict and the nation’s laws and values in the treatment of prisoners, “so too will we hold them fully and completely responsible for how they deal with any U.S. troops that may come under their control,” Gates pledged.
And the nation, he added, will never cease its efforts to locate and bring these troops home if they fall into harm’s way.
“Our concern for their welfare is unremitting,” he said, “and if they are missing or captured, we will not rest until we find them, even as the conflicts recede into history.”
That same commitment extends to those missing from past wars, Gates noted. “This department’s commitment to prisoners of war, the missing and their families is deep and abiding, a reflection of the incalculable debt that shall always be owed to them by the people of the United States of America,” he said.
While today is set aside for a formal tribute, Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that the nation remembers missing loved ones all year, every year.
The nation has memorials, ships and buildings named after lost loved ones from past wars, Cartwright noted, and the Pentagon just dedicated a new corridor to U.S. prisoners of war and troops listed as missing in action. The hallway is lined with information, artifacts and photographs underscoring the service and sacrifice of more than 80,000 MIAs and POWs from the present conflict in Afghanistan and dating back to World War II.
But while these displays and memorials serve as powerful reminders and tributes, the general said, they don’t represent the complete legacy of those left behind.
“You, the families are the true legacy,” Cartwright said. “You are what they are most proud of. You are the living reminder of their sacrifice. You are their legacy.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)