WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, issued the followed statement in honor of National POW/MIA Recognition Day:
"Throughout history, America's servicemembers have been the torchbearers for freedom and democracy around the world. The men and women who serve our country willingly put themselves into harm's way in order to defend our values.
"The most obvious of all risks, is that of their lives. There is no guarantee that a servicemember will come home. Some return wounded, some are killed in action, and others never return at all. It is today, the third Friday of every September, that we nationally recognize this third group, America's Prisoners Of War and Missing In Action.
"POWs and MIAs must never be forgotten. It is our responsibility to ensure that their legacy is preserved. The price of our freedom, the price of our democracy is paid for by the selflessness of those who serve.
"As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I work every day to ensure veterans receive the benefits they earned. However, none of the benefits afforded to America's veterans – healthcare, disability compensation, educational benefits, or even burial rights – can be provided to those who are POW/MIA.
"Louie Zamperini, a lieutenant with the Army Air Forces in World War II, is one MIA/POW who did return home, a journey detailed in Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. His story is regrettably not typical. Although his family never gave up hope, they did not know if he was alive after his plane crashed in the South Pacific. The military determined him to be MIA when in fact Louie was adrift at sea for more than 60 days after surviving the crash. Just when hope was in sight – land – Louie was captured by the Japanese and sent to a POW camp where he was subjected to unimaginably cruel treatment for three years. His grit kept him alive while in captivity. His faith kept him alive when he returned home.
"Our POW/MIA families live in the same suspension of hope that Louie's family did – for years. But for many, that hope never turns into reality. Their loved ones do not have a gravesite to visit, only a memory that never materializes.
"Only in the last 20 years has Congress begun to do its part in making sure that POWs and MIAs receive the national recognition they deserve. In 1990, Congress passed Public Law 101-355, recognizing the POW/MIA Flag and designating it 'as a symbol of our Nation's concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.'
"In 1998, as part of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act, National POW/MIA Recognition Day was created. It is one of six days where the POW/MIA flag is allowed to be flown.
"Today, 83,580 are listed as POW/MIA. Let us all remember those who have yet to come home. The best benefit we can give to our POWs/MIAs is to appropriately honor them, not just on this day, but on all days.
"We will continue the search for every single POW/MIA until the last one comes home."
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Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans