Yet since the fall of Saigon in 1975, there have been more than 1,300 sightings of Americans in Vietnam who have not been returned. These have been investigated; they have been followed up and verified. There still remain almost 100 of these sightings and reports that cannot be explained away and for which there is no answer other than that these people may yet remain alive in Vietnam.
So what we do here tonight is not just to remember those who gave extraordinary devotion and dedication and sacrifice for our country, but we say that this country has no other higher priority than to bring those Americans home and find a full accounting for those who served their Nation. This Nation would be shamed if we allowed those who served us in combat to go unaccounted for, unremembered, and unspoken for. This resolution tonight has the heartfelt yearnings of the American people. It says that we shall never forget them and we shall never stop inquiring about their fate.
Mr. Speaker, we have no other higher priority than to demand their release and their accounting.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, further reserving the right to object, I yield to the gentlewoman from Illinois [Mrs. Martin].
Mrs. MARTIN of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from California for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this important resolution, and I commend my colleague, the gentleman from Colorado [Mr. Brown], who fought for his Nation in Vietnam. I thank him for his efforts in bringing this before the House, and I thank the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee and the committee for allowing this resolution to come to us at this time when it is important to families and to all of us.
Mr. Speaker, during the past 18 months a great deal has changed in the world and in the way we think about the world. From the perspective of historians and political scientists, Vietnam is already, or very soon to be, of another ERA in American and world history--a cold war conflict.
From the perspective of the many millions of Americans whose lives were directly touched by the Vietnam war, however, it will not be so easily or readily confined to the historical context. In particular, the Vietnam conflict will remain a personal reality for the spouses, the brothers, the sisters, and the friends of the 56,000 Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam and the 2,302 Americans who are still prisoner, missing, or unaccounted for.
It is my hope, in supporting this resolution, that it will be recognized by the Governments of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as a powerful restatement of our determination to achieve the fullest possible accounting of those 2,302 Americans. It should also be recognized by those Governments as notice from the Congress that truly normal relations with the United States will be impossible so long as the fate of our countrymen remains unresolved.
We owe it to every man and woman who served our Nation during what was perhaps its most painful and difficut hour, as well as to the families and loved ones they left behind, to assure that this issue remains one of high national priority. Our commitment to those individuals will not diminish; it is a commitment immune to time and to history.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, further reserving the right to object, I yield to the distinguished Republican leader, the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Michel].
Mr. MICHEL. Mr. Speaker, I am honored to be a cosponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 291.
I certainly want to thank the distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the gentleman from New York [Mr. Solarz], along with the gentleman from California [Mr. Lagomarsino], and those other members of the task force for bringing this measure to the floor.
Earlier today, the House became the recipient of the first Medal of Honor ever awarded, to Jacob Parrot during the Civil War.
A ceremony marking the occasion was held in Statuary Hall.
The Medal will be on display for all to see. It is my hope that visitors to the Capitol Building will take the time to see the display when it is in place, and to meditate on the meaning of the Medal of Honor.
I mention Jacob Parrot's Medal of Honor because the event in which he earned the medal, a daring raid behind Confederate lines to capture a train, which resulted in some of the raiders becoming prisoners of war.
And it strikes me that it is fitting that we should be remembering other POW's and MIA's from another war on the same day that this Medal of Honor becomes a part of the great symbols on display in the Capitol.
The Medal of Honor, after all, is one way the Government has of officially recognizing bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
In a similar fashion, we owe it to all POW's and MIA's to officially recognize their sacrifice, their bravery, their memory.
One way of doing this--and here I quote from the resolution--is by:
Expressing the sense of the Congress regarding the need to account as fully as possible for Americans still missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia and to secure the return of Americans who may still be held captive in Southeast Asia.
I have said before that my feeling about POW's and MIA's can be traced to my experience as a combat infantryman during World War II.
I know what it means to wait in the darkness and, when dawn comes, discover that buddies are missing, gone without a trace.
When something like that happens, you do not forget it. The memory can haunt you across the years.
And I also know, from experience on this issue in recent years, that this is a very emotional issue. It is one that goes to the heart, and sometimes leads to heated confrontations.
I know that there are sincere differences over the measures the Government can take and should take in regard to this issue.
But on one thing there is no division: The House POW /MIA Task Force, under the leadership of our distinguished chairman and ranking member, is making every effort to deal with the complexities of this issue.
And I know that President Bush is also committed to doing all that is humanly possible to account for the fate of those yet unaccounted for.
So I just want to thank those responsible for giving us an opportunity to make these comments this evening and bring the measure to the floor, hopefully to be unanimously adopted.
And I hope that every visitor who sees the Medal of Honor on display, will also take time to see the POW /MIA banner that is in the great rotunda. These are two manifestations of the thanks a grateful Nation offers to the brave.
Both the medal and the banner say, in a different way: We shall never forget.
Mr. LAGOMARSINO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Michel].
Further reserving the right to object, Mr. Speaker, as the chairman of the bipartisan House POW /MIA Task Force, and an original cosponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 291, I rise in strong support of this important resolution introduced by our colleague Hank Brown of Colorado. This resolution reaffirms Congress' support for keeping the POW /MIA issue as one our Nation's highest national priorties--a designation made by President Reagan and reaffirmed by President Bush.
I want to commend Mr. Brown of Colorado for introducing his resolution because it is a very important signal to the Vietnamese and the rest of the world that we care about the fate of our 2,302 missing servicemen in Indochina and will not let this issue die.
Sadly, the fates of these missing servicemen and the unresolved questions of their longing families have remained unanswered for so long. Part of this situation can be blamed on ourselves. Some, in their efforts to forget the Vietnam war also forgot about those who did not come home. Others, like the Woodcock Commission, claimed there were no live Americans being held in Southeast Asia. I clearly remember the congressional mission of which I was a part that visited Hanoi in August 1979. In response to our questions regrading the POW /MIA's , now Foreign Minister Nguyen Cao Thach said, `We didn't think you cared.' We do care. I care, my constituents care, the POW /MIA families care, the congressional POW /MIA Task Force cares, Congress cares, millions of concerned American citizens care and our Government cares.
Today, under the Bush administration, as before under the Reagan administration, the POW /MIA situation has been made a top national priority. New energies and initiatives have been devoted to our POW /MIA's clearly signaling that America has not forgotten its missing men in Indochina and that we are ready and willing--at the highest national levels--to take the actions necessary to achieve a fullest possible accounting. It is critical for us to be unified on this point. House Concurrent Resolution 291 confirms this unity.
The real reason we still have so many unresolved POW /MIA cases, though, rests with the Vietnamese. The obstacles to progress and the answers to our questions lie with Hanoi, not Washington. The Vietnamese have agreed to treat the POW /MIA issue as a separate, humanitarian issue divorced from other political matters, like diplomatic recognition and so on. We will hold the Vietnamese to this pledge.
I am very encouraged that since General Vessey's mission to Hanoi in August 1987, additional progress toward achieving the fullest possible accounting of our missing men has been made. General Vessey, who was reappointed by President Bush as the President's special POW /MIA emissary, has presented the Vietnamese with a number of discrepancy cases--cases about which we know the Vietnamese have more information. The speed and comprehensiveness with which Vietnam helps satisfactorily revolve these case will, I believe, determine how long until we are able to achieve the fullest possible accounting of these men. While I am encouraged by the increased level of activity, it is not a substitute for results. Unfortunately, results over the past 6 months have been
disappointing. More needs to be done by the Vietnamese and the Lao at a much faster pace.
I am absolutely 100 percent convinced that the Vietnamese maintain a stockpile of American servicemen's remains. I am strongly convinced that there are live, unaccounted for Americans in Vietnam. I also believe that there could be live POW's in Southeast Asia--or could have been. The Vietnamese could easily help resolve some of our accounting by releasing the remains they have stored and giving us unrestricted access to investigate other cases. The ball is in their court.
Despite these obstacles, progress has been made. We have recently concluded some joint crash-site investigations and additional remains have been repatriated. We continue to work with Laos on similar projects. Technical teams have and continue to meet frequently with both the Lao and the Vietnamese. But, this progress is too slow. I hope the Vietnamese will realize that they have nothing to gain by dragging their feet on this issue. While the POW /MIA issue is a separate humanitarian one, progress on it--or the lack of progress on it--will have an impact on the resolution of other bilateral concerns. This resolution lets the governments of Southeast Asia know that Congress is watching, closely.
Mr. Speaker, House Concurrent Resolution 291 also recognizes the long suffering of the POW /MIA families. Beginning tomorrow and through this weekend the National League of Families, the only national organization comprised solely of family members, is holding its annual convention here in Washington. These families have waited a very long time to get answers and their league has been instrumental in helping achieve the progress we have made thus far. The league and the families deserve much praise.
Through this resolution, Congress is officially broadcasting that it will remain steadfast with our POW /MIA families and will keep the faith. We are reaffirming our commitment to achieving the fullest possible accounting of our POW /MIA's and reaffirming that `we will not forget.' I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this very worthy resolution.
Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from California [Mr. Dornan], who is a chairman of the task force.
Mr. DORNAN of California. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from California [Mr. Lagomarsino] for yielding, and I thank the gentleman from New York [Mr. Solarz] and everybody involved with this over the years. Of all the issues I have been involved with in the House in 14 years, this has been the most heartrending, but also the most satisfying, to see Members of all beliefs, from all parts of the country and from both our great parties working together to make sure, as the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Michel], our Republican leader, said, that we do not forget.
Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to add one note here. Today I am wearing the bracelet of a friend of mine who was shot down in Laos in mid-May 1965. That is 25 years and 2 months ago. He was a known prisoner, Dave Herdlecker, but David would not mind that every other day I alternate this bracelet with one of our current prisoners, the hostages in Lebanon. They are prisoners of a different kind of a war, a war against terrorism, and I spoke with one of the hostages we managed to get out yesterday, Dave Jacobsen, who has a tremendous respect for the missing-in-action issue and the work we did here in the House on that issue while he was a prisoner in Beirut. He went over with me yesterday again the litany of abuses against human rights that Iran, the Iranian Government, is guilty of, and he pointed out again that his friends, two to them that he actually served with, Tom Sutherland who was taken on June 9, 1985, and he has been there now 5 years and 1 month, and that out longest held prisoner, Terry Anderson, was taken March 16, 1985. So, in 3 says that will be 5 years and 4 months. That is past the halfway mark of our longest held prisoner in Vietnam unless there are some still alive, which we pray there are, and we get them out someday, and this prisoner of war issue, this missing in action issue, is a living, dynamic horror story in American life, and the rumors, as we talk tonight, are ricocheting around the world that Brian Keenan, the Irishman who has been held captive for years, that he may be released.