WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis said military personnel who were held as prisoners or who remain missing are owed “an irredeemable debt of gratitude” and that the Pentagon will never flag in its obligations to them.
“Those who don the uniform — in particular, those who suffered in captivity or have gone missing in distant lands – serve as enduring proof that America still turns out warriors of true character and grit,” Mattis said Friday.
“We will never let their sacrifices wither in the compost of history,” he said.
Mattis made the public remarks during the Pentagon’s annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony, held Friday evening on the parade ground outside the building.
The remarks came as U.S. negotiators said they hope to work out logistics with North Korea to resume ground searches for the remains of U.S. service personnel missing from the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
This summer North Korea sent 55 cases of remains, from which two missing U.S. soldiers were identified. Mattis said that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified 172 individuals from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War over the past year.
“It is our solemn obligation to account for the remains of our fallen American service members and civilians and to bring them home whenever possible,” Mattis said. “We owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to these patriots who gave their last full measure of devotion for our country.”
Mattis urged all to look past today’s “hot political rhetoric” and remember how Americans serve with bravery and distinction all over the world.