Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon Ceremony on National Prisoner of War/MIA Appreciation Day (as delivered)

0

Thank you, General Hokanson. Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for this important occasion.

I am especially honored to welcome Colonel Mike Brazelton, an accomplished Air Force pilot who spent more than six years in captivity in Vietnam. Colonel Brazelton, your monumental courage and sacrifice inspire us all. And I enjoyed spending time with you this morning. There is a rumor that Colonel Brazelton actually did a parachute jump yesterday or earlier this week. I confirm that this rumor is true, so he is still very active. I would also like to pay tribute to your daughter, Adriana, who carries on your legacy of military service.

We are also joined today by ambassadors from partner countries whose support has been invaluable in the search and recovery of our missing. So thank you all for being here. We are extremely grateful for your support. And welcome to the Pentagon.

To the family members of those still missing: you have shown unimaginable strength in the midst of terrible uncertainty. Know that your loved ones are always in our hearts. And we are honored by your courage through the long years of waiting.

Each year on National Prisoner of War/MIA Appreciation Day, we come together to honor American service members who have been captured, to support the families of the fallen and missing, and to renew our commitment to bringing home our fallen heroes.

Just a few days ago, we saw how important this solemn mission was, as an American family was blessed to honor the heroic service of a loved one.

In 1943, an Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel named Addison Baker was leading his pilots in a low-level attack on enemy-controlled oil fields in Romania. As he approached his target, the enemy hit him with an anti-aircraft shell.

His plane was burning and damaged, and he could have chosen to land. But Colonel Baker was determined to complete the mission. So he kept going until he hit his target. But afterwards, his damaged plane tragically crashed in the city below.

The following year, Colonel Baker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery. And we’re proud to have his name on the wall right here in the Hall of Heroes.

From now on, the Department has never given up on recovering his remains. And nearly eight decades after his daring mission, scientists at Offutt Air Force Base have used innovative forensic techniques to identify him.

And so this week, his family got to say goodbye and bury Colonel Baker in Arlington. And we have part of Colonel Baker’s family here with us. We welcome you to the Pentagon. And I really appreciated having the opportunity to meet with you earlier today. Thank you for your sacrifices, your patience, your determination, your fine example of perseverance.

[Applause]

We all know how much this moment means to you and your family, and we couldn’t be more proud to be here with you today. So thank you for sharing this day with us.

Today, over the years, thousands of families have had the chance to honor imprisoned or missing loved ones. And it is thanks to the dedicated work of the officials of this ministry and the service organizations that work alongside them.

But we know we still have work to do, much more work to do. And as you heard General Hokanson say earlier, more than 81,000 American servicemen and civilians are still missing. And Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency experts say nearly half of that could be recovered.

It is a monumental task, but it is also a sacred obligation. Because everyone who serves in the US military makes a solemn commitment to this country, and so does their family. And this country makes them a solemn promise in return: to report as completely as possible on any person who goes missing in the line of duty. And it is our solemn obligation to do good to those who sacrifice themselves to defend our security and our democracy.

And so I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who works so hard to honor that commitment. Our Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency experts work in 46 countries. They painstakingly search for the remains, then use state-of-the-art forensic tests and techniques to identify the missing.

Our partners around the world provide us with vital support, including former enemies turned friends. And family and veterans service organizations, many of whom are here today, shine a spotlight on this important cause and help us fulfill our commitment to those who have served. These efforts combine innovation and skill with compassion and unwavering determination, all to ensure that America keeps this sacred promise.

Over the past year, the Department has identified more than 150 missing persons, including Colonel Baker.

And behind each successful identification hides a family story. They are stories of pain and uncertainty, but also of hope, endurance and relief when long-sought answers are finally found.

The black and white flag we fly in honor of our POWs and MIAs carries a simple yet powerful message to the families of those still missing, to all who serve, and to our nation.

And that message is one we will never forget. We will never lose hope. And we will never stop working to find answers and bring our fallen home.

And to all those taken captive and returned home: you have endured untold hardships with resilience and patriotism. We are extremely grateful.

And to all the families of the captured and missing: Your strength and your faith inspire us every day.

Thank you to all who sacrifice so much to keep this country safe and to ensure that we uphold our most sacred commitment to the men and women who serve.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Thanks a lot.

[Applause]

Share.

Comments are closed.