Pentagon Leaders Honor POW/MIA Sacrifices
1 of 3
Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks with guests following the prisoner of war, Missing in Action National Recognition Day ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 18.
2 of 3
A guest at the Prisoner of War, Missing in Action National Recognition Day ceremony listens as Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivers remarks at the Pentagon, Sept. 18, 2015.
3 of 3
Soldiers and Marines march past Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a pass and review at the Prisoner of War, Missing in Action National Recognition Day ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 18, 2015.
Tears streamed down the face of former Army Technician Grade 5 Robert “Bob” T. Davis, a World War II prisoner of war, as the honor guard marched across the Pentagon’s River Parade Field, to post the colors before the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressed the solemn crowd.
“In a year of anniversaries – when we mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s end – today we remember that even when war ends, not everyone comes home,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described his own way of honoring Operation Iraqi Freedom missing-in-action service members who served under his command from 2003 to 2004.
'Make It Matter'
“On my desk, less than 100 yards from where we stand, sits a small wooden box. And inside that box, there’s small laminated cards with a picture of every service member lost in Iraq under my command from 2003 to 2004," Dempsey said. "And on that box are inscribed three simple words, ‘Make It Matter.’
"I carry three of those cards in my pocket at all times. That’s all the inspiration I need to try to make my decisions matter, to make their sacrifices matter, to make my life matter," the chairman added. "The lives and the sacrifices of those we honor today matter. They matter to me, and they matter to our nation.”
Dempsey said he’s fond of the Marine Corps’ slogan, “Semper Fidelis’ [always faithful] “because they don’t just say it, they live it. It’s more ethos than slogan. The words ‘We Will Never Forget’ are more than just a slogan. They are a powerful, animating force for those individuals and organizations who dedicate their purpose to fulfilling our nation’s promise -- a promise to unite every prisoner of war and every service member still missing in action with their loved ones.
"'We will never forget' is a constant call to make it matter, to stay the course until the job is done until every family is made whole again,” Dempsey said.
'A Long Way Home'
Davis said it was an honor to meet the Carter, and it will give him bragging rights back home. After landing in France nine days after D-Day, he fought in the battles at Saint-Lo and Mortain before he was captured by German soldiers and spent six months in a POW camp.
“It was a tough battle. Our company was wiped out,” said Davis, a 91-year old Ocean City, New Jersey, resident. “We were in the town of St. Bartholomew in France when we were captured, and then I was in a prison camp close to Trent in Poland. We were starving to death. All we got was a ladle of soup and a slice of bread a day. We just went down to nothing.
"Then the Russians came in, killed all of the Germans, and I walked all the way across Poland to as far as Lublin, and then the Russians picked us up and took us to Odessa [Ukraine]. It was a long way home,” Davis said.
Remembering Those Who Never Came Home
He said he had never seen a ceremony like the event today and it brought tears to his eyes. It was also his first time back at the Pentagon since 1945.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Davis added. “I can’t believe I shook hands with the Secretary of Defense.”
For Thomas “Tom” Horio, a former Army Specialist 6, attending the event was more about honoring the fallen.
“We were working the Cambodian border and our firebase got overrun,” Horio said, a Vietnam POW. “I was on [listening post] duty, and we were captured by the North Vietnamese," he said. "I spent six months in a Cambodian jungle camp, and then we walked up to Hanoi along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I spent a little over three years at Hanoi."
Horio said he attends events like this for the fallen who were not recovered during his stay.
“This is not for me, but for the people who are still there, because there were two or three guys who were killed in our jungle camp, and they’ve never recovered the remains," Horio said. "It’s in remembrance for them really that I come."
He said he hopes others will honor and respect the fallen.
“We served our country, and we served it well, and we honored the Code of Conduct,” Horio said. “Remember the fallen. They tried to honor their country and keep the Code of Conduct, and that’s the reason they’re not here.”
The Mission Continues
Carter said there are still 73,515 missing from World War II; 7,841 missing from the Korean War; 126 missing from the Cold War; and 1,626 missing from the Vietnam War.
The Defense Department is harnessing new technology and investing in advances in forensic science to identify previously unidentifiable remains of some of the fallen, Carter said.
“We’re also using new communication channels to keep in touch with families of the missing,” he said.
One of the improvements the department has made is the creation of the new Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which combined the activities and resources of three different organizations and more than 600 staff members. Amid the reorganization, Carter said they identified 67 missing service members this year.
“We are the defense organization that is responsible for doing the research, investigation, field recoveries and identifications of those who have never returned from all of our past wars,” said Michael Linnington, DPAA director. “We’re expanding our operations through strategic partnerships, and we’re going to try and significantly increase the number of folks we identify and provide answers to family members in the years to come.”
Linnington, who retired from the Army after 35 years of service, said he was inspired to talk to the six POWs in attendance.
“Today is one day, but this commitment to recovering our missing from previous wars is an all-year enduring effort," Linnington said. "So I appreciate the commitment of our families, our family groups, everybody in DoD, and all of our partners to continuing this as we go forward. There are 365 days like today for our organization, and we appreciate all of the collaboration we can get.”
Carter said he was committed to bringing all service members home.
“Every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman should know that we will --I will -- do everything we can to bring them back to their families,” he said.
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)