U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War stirs great passions on both ends of the political spectrum, but one critical lesson of that era is that we must not let the politics of war detract from our support for those who wage it. As President Barack Obama has said, “Patriots can support a war. Patriots can oppose a war. And whatever our view, let us always stand united in support of our troops, who we placed in harm’s way. That is our solemn obligation.”
Decades have passed since the end of the Vietnam War, but many of the patriots who died during the conflict—a world away from everyone they loved —have yet to return home.
In Cambodia, 90 Americans were missing in action after the war. While 37 of them have since been recovered, 53 remain missing today. The families of these 53 continue to feel the lingering heartache of not knowing their loved one’s fate.
As the son of a combat helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam twice, I was truly humbled and privileged to take part in an important occasion to honor our missing service members last week.
In a solemn ceremony, the U.S. government accepted from the Royal Government of Cambodia remains found in Kampong Cham province that may belong to missing U.S. military service members who died in Cambodia.
Representatives of the Cambodian Prisoner of War/ Missing in Action (POW/ MIA) Committee, the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, and the U.S. Embassy stood together at attention, as an honor guard placed the Stars and Stripes on the caskets before carrying them to a U.S. military plane destined for American soil. At last, long lost heroes may finally have returned home.
No matter how far away they are, or how long they have been lost, the fate and whereabouts of our missing military service members are a concern to all Americans.
As a nation, we share a deeply held belief that the peace, freedom, and prosperity we enjoy are only possible because our armed forces willingly, readily, and selflessly defend them. In doing so, some of them made the ultimate sacrifice.
We may never be able to repay the great debt we owe them and their families, but we are united in our earnest hope and shared responsibility to do whatever we can to bring them home so they may finally be laid to rest.
I hope that the repatriation of the remains may bring the families of the fallen a measure of relief denied far too long by uncertainty.
While the rest of us can only imagine the pain they have endured, a grateful nation will never forget the sacrifices of their loved ones.
The recoveries and return of the remains would not have been possible without the extraordinary support and assistance of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Cambodian people.
Since 1992, Cambodia has viewed joint recovery operations as a humanitarian act and graciously assisted the U.S. in this effort.
I would especially like to thank the members of the Cambodian POW/MIA Committee for their efforts.
Our shared commitment and success to date is evidence
of what the U.S. and Cambodia can accomplish when working together.
As long as the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing from past conflicts is yet to be complete, recovery efforts will continue.
I have seen first-hand how Americans and Cambodians work tirelessly side-by-side in treacherous terrains, underwater, and in other arduous conditions toward achieving this goal.
On behalf of the American people, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to all Cambodians who have contributed to the recovery of my missing fellow countrymen.
William Todd is the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia.