Gates: Nation Will Bring Home Missing Troops

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)

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