National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2010

SAF/PA 2010 Air Force Public Affairs

National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2010

Each year, the third Friday in September is set aside to honor the commitment and the sacrifices made by this nation's prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action. 

We gather here today as a reminder that Americans remember our responsibility to stand behind those who serve our nation. Today we also honor family members and relatives who have made great sacrifices for our country and have, themselves, been steadfast in their resolve for a full accounting of what happened to their loved ones.. And, on this day, we recommit our resolve to do everything possible to account for our sons, daughters and all those who have not returned nor been returned to American soil.

Today is not just a day to honor former prisoners of war and those missing in action. We also acknowledge that we are still at war. With war comes the probability that Americans may be captured by our nation's enemy. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE to following paragraph: As of June 29, 2010, Army Specialist Bowe W. Bergdahl is still considered "Missing-Captured."] 

On June 30th, 2009, Army Specialist Bowe W. Bergdahl was discovered missing during his unit's roll-call in the Afghan capital of Kabul. On July 3rd, 2009, his status was declared as "Missing-Captured." Since his capture, it has been a top priority for U.S. and coalition forces to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return home. Please keep Specialist Bergdahl and his family in your thoughts or prayers.. 

All of the Americans still missing or unaccounted for are part of us--part of our nation-- bound by the same oath to the Constitution that our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen of today swear to protect - bound by the same honor we all share. They exhibited that honor; that code of conduct; they're loyalty and their dedication to our nation in extreme circumstances -many in captivity and later repatriated, many who died in captivity, and many more still missing with our hope of being found and returned to their families or relatives. 

Some of you in the audience today may have had to endure the horrors of being a prisoner of war. Your nation is grateful you stood the course.

Some of you in the audience today may have lost loved ones to war or hold a vacant place in your hearts in the hopes of learning a family member or relative, once lost, is now found. Your nation is grateful to you, as well, as you've endured the years of unknowing.

And to so many of you who wear or have worn a POW-MIA bracelet; who offer silent prayers; or perform acts of kindness related to the cause of today's commemoration - thank you. 

We're all familiar, now, with the nationally recognized symbol of the exemplary struggle to bring our service members home--the POW/MIA flag--the stark black and white banner symbolizing America's Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.

The POW/MIA flag serves: 

(1) as the symbol of our Nation's concern and commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans who, having been prisoners of war or missing in action, still remain unaccounted for; and

(2) as the symbol of our Nation's commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting for Americans who in the future may become prisoners of war, missing in action, or otherwise unaccounted for as a result of hostile action.

When you see the POW/MIA flag you reference this special day--this special time for reflection. I ask you never forget our special comrades, those who were prisoners, and those whose status is still unresolved. 

And your nation has not forgotten. Your nation never will. We are unwavering in our commitment to return to American soil any Americans taken prisoner of war or who are missing in action, or unaccounted for. 

Accounting for our missing is a non-stop endeavor. Overseen by the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, teams of experts are constantly seeking the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of our nation's conflicts abroad. But this journey takes time.

It's now been 65 years since the end of World War II and to this day our heroes are being found, repatriated and honored from that war as they've long deserved, no longer missing, no longer unaccounted for.

Our nation lost over 400,000 Americans serving in World War II. At the end of the war, U.S. government officials were unable to recover, identify and bury approximately 79,000 service members. Through diligence, that number has been decreased to approximately 72,000 Americans remaining unaccounted-for. And, there are still over 8,000 missing from the Korean War; 125 missing from the Cold War period between the closing days of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; and over 1,700 still missing or unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. The wars of late carry significantly fewer losses but some are missing, and as mentioned, some are considered "captured."

The search for them continues - and when found, they are brought home. The words "You Are Not Forgotten" woven into the fabric of the POW/MIA flag are deliberate; they define our nation's resolve in bringing home our own. 

An Airman lost during World War II was brought home just last month. On August 17th, the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced that the remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Ray F. Fletcher had been identified and returned to his family. He was buried with full military honors on August 20th. 

On May 10th, 1944, 1st Lt. Fletcher and four others aboard a B-25C Mitchell bomber took off from an airfield on the French-owned island of Corsica on a routine courier mission. They were officially reported missing three days later after they failed to reach their destination. The U.S. Army reported at the time the remains were not recoverable. In the ensuing years, wreckage and human remains were collected from the mountainous location but it was not until September 2005 that a JPAC team was able to excavate the location and recover additional human remains as well as crew-related equipment. Using forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, JPAC scientists and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory were able to use mitochondrial, or cell DNA, to positively identify Fletcher's remains.

Another Airman missing in action from World War II was also identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors last month -- U.S. Army Air Forces Sergeant John P. Bonnassiolle. 

On April 29, 1944, Sergeant Bonnassiolle was aboard a B-24J Liberator with nine other airmen. They failed to return to base following a bombing mission over Berlin. German documents captured after the war established the aircraft had crashed near the town of East Meitze, north of Hannover. Fifty seven years later, in 2003, a German citizen discovered human remains at the original East Meitze crash site and turned them over to U.S. officials. A JPAC team recovered additional remains and crew-related equipment, including Sergeant Bonnassiolle's identification in 2005 and 2007.

It took a long time to bring him home, but America never forgot.

Looking back even farther into the annals of war we find, still, those considered missing; but we still work to bring them home.

Army Private Thomas D. Costello was buried on July 12th (2010) at Arlington National Cemetery. He had been missing in action since 1918. 

On Sept. 16 of that year, Costello's 60th Infantry Regiment encountered heavy enemy artillery barrage and machine gun fire near Jaulny, France, in a wooded area known as Bois de Bonvaux. He was killed during the battle and his remains were buried with two other soldiers in a wooded area between Bois de Bonvaux and Bois de Grand Fontaine. Attempts to locate Costello's remains following World War I were unsuccessful. In September 2006 a JPAC team, operating near the location, recovered his remains.

Some of our missing are from more recent wars--their final chapter now complete:

Air Force Major Curtis Daniel Miller was buried March 29th (2010) exactly 38 years to the day after his AC-130A Spectre gunship went missing over southern Laos. He was part of a 14-man aircrew, all of which are now accounted-for. 

Last year's identification and return of Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher, whose remains were located in Iraq, was the final accounting of forty-nine Americans listed as POW/MIA during Operation Desert Storm. 

Never forgotten. Returned with honor.

At any given time, there are more than 1,000 active case files under investigation from areas throughout the world. Approximately 74 POW/MIAs are identified, on average, per year. But they are never just a number. Once a case is completed, the identified American is transferred to the appropriate service mortuary affairs office. Military members from these offices personally notify next-of-kin family members of the identification. 

Though it takes a substantial amount of time and effort to try and locate one person, realize that in our Air Force and military as a whole, there is no greater accomplishment we as a nation can achieve than bringing home America's sons and daughters who selflessly gave of themselves in the cause for freedom. 

Our efforts to this day cannot wane. Even though on September 1st (2010) the mission in Southwest Asia changed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, there will still remain some 50,000 troops in Iraq. While instances of violence have dropped dramatically there, dangers still exist. 

And as we continue to step up operations in Afghanistan, dangers still exist there, as well. 

As our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen continue to serve our nation, we owe it to each and every one of them that we will never give up and never forget. 

It's the least America can do for their sacrifices.

To all our heroes still missing or unaccounted for ... You Are Not Forgotten!

Thank you

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EDITORS NOTE: The new 2010 POW/MIA poster was unveiled at July's 41st annual meeting of the National League of Families and Annual Government Briefings. The electronic image of the poster may be seen here (www.dtic.mil/dpmo/pow_day/), and copies may be ordered from a link on the site labeled "Ordering Posters." The poster commemorates the observance of National POW/MIA Recognition Day on Friday, September 17, 2010.