“Those unwell and far away,
Those who never lived to see,
The end of war and victory,
And every friend who passed our way,
Remembered as of yesterday,
It's absent friends we miss the most,
To all, let's drink a loving toast”
Distinguished guests, Secretary Carter, good morning ... and thank you for being here.
My wife Deanie and I extend a special welcome to the former prisoners of war and their families … to the families of those still missing in action … and to all who remain dedicated to bringing them home. It’s a great honor to share this day with you.
I wish my opening words were my own. Rather, they come from the poem “Absent Friends” by World War II veteran and celebrated poet, William Walker . And although I didn’t pen the words myself, I deeply understand their sentiment.
On my desk, less than 100 yards from where I’m standing now, sits a small wooden box. And inside that box are small laminated cards with a picture of every service member lost in Iraq under my command from 2003 and 2004. And on that box are inscribed three simple words: “Make it matter.”
I carry three of the 132 cards in my pocket all the time. That’s all the inspiration I need to make my decisions matter … to make their sacrifices matter ... to make my life matter.
And what I’d tell you is this … the lives and the sacrifices of those we honor today matter. I know they matter to you, who carry their memories in your hearts. They matter to me. And they matter to our Nation.
One of those lives of consequence … those lives that matter … was that of First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., United States Marine Corps. Seventy-two years ago, while fighting in the Pacific, First Lieutenant Bonnyman gave his life for this country. And although posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, he was never recovered from the battlefield. Until now.
Next Sunday, thanks to the passionate work of many people working with and in the military, he’ll be laid to rest with full military honors in his family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee. His daughters and surviving family will be in attendance. And a loss laced with uncertainty for so long will have some measure of closure.
Every family deserves that same closure. And every one of our missing deserves to come home.
I’m wearing an Army uniform today, but I am the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And I’ve always been fond of the Marine Corps saying “Semper Fidelis” … Always Faithful. They don’t just say it … they live it. First Lieutenant Bonnyman certainly lived it. For Marines, then and now, it’s more ethos than slogan.
So too, the words “we will never forget” are more than just a slogan. They are a powerful animating force for those individuals and organizations who dedicate their purpose to fulfilling our Nation’s promise … a promise to unite every prisoner of war and every service member still missing in action with their loved ones.
And “we will never forget” is a constant call to “make it matter” … to stay the course until the job is done … until every family is made whole again.
And now ladies and gentlemen, it’s now my privilege to introduce my battle buddy and our Nation's Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter.