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"Honoring and Keeping Faith With America's Missing Servicemen"

A combined ceremony will be held September 17, 1999 at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington  National Cemetery to honor former POWs and missing servicemen and to dedicate an inscription on the crypt of the Vietnam Unknown.

The inscription, "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen," is etched on the crypt cover above the existing dates, "1958-1975." The dedication was composed after the remains of the Vietnam Unknown were disinterred and identified as those of Air Force First Lieutenant. Michael J. Blassie.

The identification of all remains from Southeast Asia -- and even other wars -- is a possibility today because of advances in forensic medicine since Blassie was interred as the Vietnam Unknown in 1984. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen decided not to inter a new Vietnam Unknown unless the remains would be unidentifiable for all time -- no remains in current U.S. custody meet that absolute standard.

Charles L. Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs,  said Cohen's decision led to the question: "How do we honor those still missing?" To find an answer, DoD queried Congress, the Cabinet and veterans and family service organizations. The inscription is based on the responses.

Cragin called the dedication ceremony and the inscription are vital parts of ensuring the nation's continued recognition of former POWs and its commitment to the fullest possible accounting of missing personnel. "What could be a better day to bring that together than POW/MIA Recognition
Day, Sept. 17?" he asked.

The ceremonies don't relate solely to men missing in action in Vietnam, Cragin emphasized. "We continue to bring home remains of men killed in Korea and World War II to be identified and returned to their families," he said. "I want to ensure that POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day that is used to recognize all who were prisoners of war or missing in action."

Georgia Senator Max Cleland, holder of the Silver Star for gallantry in Vietnam, will be the keynote speaker. "I can't think of an individual who has more insight, empathy, understanding and appreciation of the contributions made by all of the men and women who served in Southeast Asia," Cragin said.

A grenade explosion on April 8, 1968, cost Cleland both legs and his right arm. At age 28 in 1970, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Georgia State Senate. In 1977, he became the youngest ever head of the Veterans Administration [now Department of Veterans Affairs].

"As administrator of Veterans Affairs, he played a significant and meaningful role in concern and representation for America's servicemen and women and veterans, particularly POW/MIAs," Cragin noted.

The ceremony is open to the public. "We've sent personal invitations to more than 2,000 families of missing personnel. We've heard back from many who plan to attend," said Air Force Col. Beth Unklesbay of DoD's POW/Missing Personnel Office. "We've also contacted all the large veterans' and family groups and encouraged them to get word out to their membership."

Unklesbay said about 125,000 of the more than 142,000 American POWs in the 20th century returned home, and 52,000 are still alive. Nearly half of the 30,000 Americans held prisoner in the Pacific Theater during World War II died in captivity, she said, and many thousands more were POWs in Europe. She said fewer than half the 7,000 POWs of the Korean War returned home, and more than 8,000 Americans are still listed as missing in action. Of the more than 800 U.S. servicemen held prisoner in Vietnam, 144 died in captivity.

 (Reprinted by permission of Michael Patterson,


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Tribute to the men and women of the USS Cole

A Tribute to "The American G.I."

The unassailable reasoning and eloquence of Colin Powell

The American G.I.

The American GI - Most Influential Person of the Century   Time Magazine prepared a list of the 10 most influential people of  the century in each field to mark the end of the century.  The 10 most influential scientists, politicians, entertainers, sports figures,  musicians, artists, and industrialists. This month they published the 10 most influential people (overall) of the century. They named "the American GI" the most influential person of  the century. It is the only one that is not a single individual. General Powell wrote the introduction to the award.

Colin Powell's Tribute to the American G.I.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I referred to the men and women of the armed forces as "G.I.s."   It got me in trouble with some of my colleagues at the time. Several years earlier, the Army had officially excised the term as an unfavorable characterization derived from the designation "government issue."  Sailors and Marines wanted to be known as sailors and Marines.   Airmen, notwithstanding their origins as a rib of the Army, wished to be called simply airmen.  Collectively, they were blandly referred to as "service members."  I persisted in using G.I.s and found I was in good company.  Newspapers and television shows used it all the time.  The most famous and successful Government education program was known as the GI Bill, and it still uses that title for a newer generation of veterans.  When you added one of the most common boy's names to it, you got GI Joe, and the name of the most popular boy's toy ever, the GI Joe action figure.  And let's not forget GI Jane. GI is a World War II term that two generations later continues to conjure up the warmest and proudest memories of a noble war that pitted pure good against pure evil and good triumphed.  The victors in that war were the American G.I.s, the Willies and Joes, the farmer from Iowa and the steelworker from Pittsburgh who stepped off a landing craft into the hell of Omaha Beach.  The GI was the wise cracking kid Marine from Brooklyn who clawed his way up a deadly hill on a Pacific island.  He was a black fighter pilot escorting white bomber pilots over Italy and Germany, proving that skin color had nothing to do with skill or courage.    He was a native Japanese-American infantryman released from his own country's concentration camp to join the fight.  She was a nurse relieving the agony of a dying teenager.  He was a petty officer standing on the edge of a heaving aircraft carrier with two signal paddles in his hands, helping guide a dive-bomber pilot back onto the deck.  They were America.  They reflected our diverse origins.  They were the embodiment of the American spirit of courage and dedication. They were truly a "people's army," going forth on a crusade to save democracy and freedom, to defeat tyrants, to save oppressed peoples and to make their families proud of them.   They were the Private Ryans, and they stood firm in the thin red line.  For most of those G.I.s, World War II was the adventure of their lifetime.  Nothing they would ever do in the future would match their experiences as the warriors of democracy, saving the world from its own insanity.  You can still see them in every Fourth of July color guard, their gait faltering but ever proud.  Their forebears went by other names: doughboys, Yanks, buffalo soldiers, Johnny Reb, Rough Riders.  But "GI" will be forever lodged in the consciousness of our nation to apply to them all.  The GI carried the value system of the American people.  The G.I.s were the surest guarantee of America's commitment. For more than 200 years, they answered the call to fight thenation's battles. They never went forth as mercenaries on the road toconquest.  They went forth as reluctant warriors, as citizen soldiers.  They were as gentle in victory as they were vicious in battle.  I've had survivors of Nazi concentration camps tell me of the joy they experienced as the G.I.s liberated them:   America had arrived!  I've had a wealthy Japanese businessman come into my office and tell me what it was like for him as a child in 1945 to await the arrival of the dreaded American beasts, and instead meet a smiling GI who gave him a Hershey bar.   In thanks, the businessman was donating a large sum of money to the USO.   After thanking him, I gave him as a souvenir a Hershey bar I had autographed.   He took it and began to cry.  The 20th century can be called many things, but it was most certainly a century of war.  The American G.I.s helped defeat fascism and communism.  They came home in triumph from the ferocious battlefields of World Wars I and II. In Korea and Vietnam they fought just as bravely as any of their predecessor, but no triumphant receptions awaited them at home.They soldiered on through the twilight struggles of the cold war and showed what they were capable of in Desert Storm.  The American people took them into their hearts again.  In this century hundreds of thousands of G.I.s died to bring to the beginning of the 21st century the victory of democracy as the ascendant political system on the face of the earth.  The G.I.s were willing to travel far away and give their lives, if necessary, to secure the rights and freedoms of others.  Only a nation such as ours, based on a firm moral foundation, could make such a request of its citizens.  And the G.I.s wanted nothing more than to get the job done and then return home safely.  All they asked for in repayment from those they freed was the opportunity to help them become part of the world of democracy-and just enough land to bury their fallen comrades, beneath simple white crosses and Stars of David.  The volunteer G.I.s of today stand watch in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Europe and the dangerous terrain of the Balkans.  We must never see them as mere hirelings, off in a corner of our society. They are our best, and we owe them our full support and our sincerest thanks.  As this century closes, we look back to identify the great leaders and personalities of the past 100 years. We do so in a world still troubled, but full of promise.  That promise was gained by the young men and women of America who fought and died for freedom.  Near the top of any listing of the most important people of the 20th century must stand, in singular honor, the American GI.


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