“We pause today to remember, honor, and show solidarity with
our troops who have been captured or gone missing in America's wars,” Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates said, “and to affirm that we will never forget our
duty to bring them home.”
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, and retired Navy Rear Adm. Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., a former U.S. senator
from Alabama and a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, joined Gates at the
“No nation in history has gone to such care, expense or effort to locate its
fallen,” Gates said. U.S. government dive-and-salvage teams, forensic scientists
and investigators travel worldwide seeking a full accounting of missing
servicemembers, he said.
For example, Gates said, the remains of three previously missing servicemen --
Air Force Lt. Col. Earl Hopper, who died in 1968; Army Pvt. David Woodruff,
captured in Korea in 1951; and Army Air Force Staff Sgt. Jimmy Doyle, who died
in 1944 -- were returned to their families this year and buried with full
And, Gates said, the remains of missing Navy Capt. Michael Scott Speicher were
discovered last month in Iraq and returned to his family for burial. Speicher
was an aviator who was shot down over Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
The work continues to find missing servicemembers and return them to their
families, Gates said.
“We do it mindful of what we owe POW/MIAs and their loved ones,” he said. “And,
we do it in affirmation of our strongest belief as a people: that every life is
Cartwright, too, pledged that the nation will do all that's possible to find its
“Our lessons learned from past conflicts provide opportunities to improve
accounting efforts for the future,” Cartwright said. And, he said, advances in
forensics technology and technique will be passed along to future generations of
Gates and Cartwright both saluted Denton's service to the nation and his
sacrifice. A naval aviator, Denton was shot down over North Vietnam on July 18,
1965. His captors frequently tortured him during his nearly eight years as a
prisoner. They released him Feb. 12, 1973.
During his imprisonment in North Vietnam, Denton gained fame and enduring
respect from his fellow Americans during a television interview arranged by the
North Vietnamese, who thought the captured Navy pilot would support their cause.
Denton instead refused to denounce U.S. efforts in the war and repeatedly
blinked his eyes in Morse Code, spelling the word, “T-O-R-T-U-R-E.” The
interview was broadcast on American TV on May 17, 1966, and was the first
confirmation that the enemy was torturing U.S. POWs in Vietnam.
Gates praised Denton's “courageous resistance” to his captors' aims. Denton
received the Navy Cross upon his release from captivity.
Denton spoke of his pride for the men and women in the military; and he touched
upon the death of his wife of 61 years, Jane Maury Denton, who passed away on
Thanksgiving Day 2007.
Denton praised his wife's steadfastness and loyalty to the nation during his
years of captivity, noting that she, like him, didn't “want to swap any means
that was advantageous to the enemy to get us home.”
America's servicemembers, Denton said, belong to a unique class.
“Our men and women in uniform have answered the call and have shown and continue
to show that they're willing to defend our country at the risk of their lives,”
Denton said. “All of us here today salute POWs, MIAs, their families and all
Without such service, Denton said, the United States “could not remain the land
of the free and the home of the brave.”
The black-and-white POW-MIA banner, according to a White House news release,
will be flown today over the White House, the Capitol, the departments of State,
Defense and Veterans Affairs and at a number of other U.S. government-managed
agencies and institutions.
“Our nation maintains a solemn commitment to leave no servicemember behind,”
Obama said in the release. “Our men and women in uniform uphold this pledge
every day, and our country further upholds it as we honor every man and woman
who serves, particularly those taken as prisoners of war or missing in action.
“We will never cease in our mission to bring America's missing servicemembers
home; we will never forget the sacrifices they made to keep this nation free;
and we will forever honor their memory,” Obama said.