By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2012 - The education center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial "Wall" will be a place to join the past to the future, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at the center's groundbreaking ceremony today.
Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, joined Panetta at the ceremony, held near the memorial on the National Mall here. The groundbreaking included a large delegation of congressional and military leaders and members of Gold Star Families -- an organization for families that have lost loved ones in military service.
"It will be a site for future generations of Americans to learn, think and reflect on our nation's wars and those who fought them," Panetta said of the education center. "This is a very poignant moment, for a very special place in my heart for [Vietnam veterans]."
The center, which will honor veterans from several U.S. wars, will bring to life the stories of the more than 58,000 U.S. service members who were lost during the Vietnam War. Stories and photos of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan also will be featured until those veterans have their own national place of honor, event officials said.
"As I travel across the country and the world, I am always inspired by the strength and the resilience of our military families," Biden, also a military mom, told the audience.
"But there are many Americans who don't know anyone in the military," she added. "As a life-long educator, that's why the education center is so important. It will help ensure our veterans will always be remembered -- not just in name, by but by their actions. Those actions will become part of the lessons that educate and inspire us for years to come."
This year begins the 50th anniversary commemoration of the United States' participation in the Vietnam War, Panetta told the audience.
"We remember their bravery and heroism and we will never forget their sacrifices during that conflict," he said of U.S. service members who fought in Vietnam.
Panetta spoke of his recent travels to Vietnam, noting that Defense Department officials were working diligently in Hanoi to find and identify remains of U.S. service members who are missing in action there and throughout the region.
"It is our sacred duty to leave no one behind," Panetta said. "We will not rest until every MIA is brought home. I assure you that your government is committed to the fullest possible accounting of our missing service members from the Vietnam War."
Panetta said Americans failed to acknowledge the sacrifices of the nation's service members when they returned home after the war.
"America's recognition came too late," he said. "The Vietnam generation is graying now. Preserving stories requires more than a place of remembrance. It needs a place of education. [These veterans] must never be forgotten."
The center will focus on a divisive time in the nation's history from which it learned meaningful lessons, the secretary said.
"That war is always a last resort, that we must have a clear mission [to fight], that people can oppose a war and still support the troops, and that we should always cherish the legacy of valor and self-sacrifice our veterans represent and make America strong," he said.
Panetta said the center will honor the nation's military heroes "by telling the stories of brave American warriors, past and present, we help ensure we'll never forget the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price for their country."
"The torch of freedom these heroes carried into battle must be passed from generation to generation, so we never stop fighting for a better future for our children," the secretary said.
Leon E. Panetta
Dr. Jill Biden
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
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