Secretary of Defense
Remarks at National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony
Pentagon River Parade Grounds
Good morning everyone.
Senator Cornyn, Vice Chairman Selva, Captain Coffee, distinguished guests, families and friends: thanks for joining us here today.
We gather here together today to recognize our nation’s former prisoners of war and those still missing…and to recommit ourselves to fulfilling our solemn pledge: to make every effort to bring all – all – our men and women home to their families.
We’re honored to be joined today by former POWs, individuals who endured captivity courageously and honorably during World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. People like Captain Gerald Coffee, who never gave up during seven long years as a POW in Vietnam.
Thanks, Captain Coffee…and thank you all – to all of you here who have served and endured captivity as you have.
And we’re also privileged to be joined by family members of those still missing and former POWs. Senator John Cornyn will speak in a moment – his father, then-Second Lieutenant T.J. Cornyn, was shot down and captured as a POW in World War II before being liberated. Senator, thank you for being here, and thank you also for your commitment to those who serve today…not only in the past – right up until this day, including very recently when you visited our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It means a great deal to us Senator, thank you.
And to all the families here today and around the world – whether you’ve been reunited or are still waiting for your loved one – thank you for your patriotism and courage in the face of uncertainty, and thank you for all you’ve given to this country.
Since we came together last year on POW/MIA Recognition Day, we’ve accounted for over 135 missing servicemembers. Missing personnel like Navy Lieutenant Julian Jordan, who served on the U.S.S. Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor that fateful December day 75 years ago. For decades, Lieutenant Jordan’s remains were among the many – too many – listed as non-recoverable. But a renewed Defense Department effort to identify unknowns in 2015 led to the successful identification of his remains…and his burial with full military honors in Washington State just last month.
Like Lieutenant Jordan’s story, every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, and DoD civilian accounted for is a promise met, and we won’t stop – I won’t stop – until we achieve the fullest possible accounting for all our missing. And right now, far too many families still have to wonder about the fates of their fathers, grandfathers, their husbands and daughters, their brothers and sisters.
We work hard to meet our commitment to yesterday’s personnel to honor their service and their families. But there’s another reason we do so: we know what it means to the men and women serving today, those who will serve in the future, and their families. As they see everything we’re doing to provide the fullest possible accounting of those who served before… they know we’ll do the same for them.
Indeed, one of the reasons our servicemembers will stop at nothing to accomplish their missions – whether they’re standing with our allies and standing up to Russia’s aggression in Europe, making – managing change in the vital Asia-Pacific, deterring North Korea’s provocations, countering Iran’s malign activities, or helping accelerate ISIL’s lasting defeat, which we will surely achieve – is that they know we’ll stop at nothing, and make every effort, to bring them home to their families.
That’s a promise we make not only to our force of the past, but also our force today and of the future. That’s why this commitment is so important. And that’s why we’re so fortunate to have a lot of help keeping it.
Committed family advocacy groups, veterans service organizations, and other non-governmental groups support our work. Friends and allies around the world serve as critical partners in helping us reach, account for, and bring home our fallen. And the men and women of DPAA – the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency – work day in and day out, in remote field sites and high-tech laboratories alike, across the United States and around the world, to meet that promise and to give hope and solace to our families.
Today, we can meet our sacred commitment…to the force of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So thank you for your partnership, thank you Captain Coffee and Senator Cornyn for sharing your stories with us, and thank all of you for joining us to commemorate our POW/MIA Recognition Day. May God bless you, and may God bless this great nation in the years to come.