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Remarks by Senator John McCain Honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Vietnam War At the Defense Intelligence Agency
Friday, November 4, 2011
"Thank you, General Burgess, for that kind introduction – and for your many years of service in uniform. You are doing an outstanding job leading the Defense Intelligence Agency, and I want to thank you and all of your colleagues for the work that you do. I only wish that more Americans could see for themselves the full extent of the remarkable service that DIA provides to our nation.
"Let me also thank our Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, for taking the time to join us today – and for his many years of service in uniform as well, including in the Vietnam War. I know it is a truism that intelligence fails in public and succeeds in private. So whether it was tracking down and dispatching Osama bin Laden, or rolling up Iran's plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington, I am very pleased that our intelligence community, including all of you here at DIA, has enjoyed a recent series of high-profile victories.
"I know this is a special year for DIA, as you mark your 50th anniversary. Of all the agencies of our government, DIA can truly say it was born fighting. The ink was barely dry on Secretary McNamara's order to establish this institution before DIA found itself on the frontlines in Vietnam – as President Kennedy began the gradual escalation of America's involvement there 50 years ago.
"In that war, DIA not only made its mark and distinguished itself. It also set the high standard of service that DIA would continue to meet over the decades to come – through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Six Day War, Operation Desert Storm and the war on terror, and so many other historic events that impacted our vital national security interests. This is the same standard of service that all of you continue to live up to today.
"For some of you, your time of service stretches all the way back, half a century ago, to the war in Southeast Asia. Regardless of the uniform you wore, the unit you served in, or the work you did, I thank you for serving.
"Just as importantly, I thank you for your continued service, and I know how much you have likely given up for that distinction. I know, at times, that you have given up your comfort and safety. I know you have given up less demanding and more lucrative jobs. I know you have given up cherished parts of your lives, those quiet little sacrifices that often go unmentioned, but often hurt the most – the anniversaries spent alone, the birth of a child missed, the first steps not seen and the first words not heard. I know you have given all that, and always you are prepared to give more.
"If I leave you with only one thought this morning, let it be this: Your service, and everything you have given to continue your service – it is worth it. It is always worth it. There is no higher honor than to serve a just cause greater than your own self-interest. And for those of you who walked away from the confusing, painful, and emotional experience of your time in Vietnam, but who nevertheless chose to remain faithful to the cause of our nation and all who serve it, I commend you.
"A long time ago, I had occasion to recall an example of courage and honor that struck in me a deep chord of remembrance about the meaning of national service and patriotism. I was asked to speak at a small, moving ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where a memorial was dedicated to the Marines who fought in the last combat action of our war in Indochina – the rescue of the crew of the Mayaguez, the American ship that had been seized by the Khmer Rouge.
"I don't know how many here remember the rescue and the losses we suffered in its execution. Among the casualties was a Marine fire team mistakenly left behind, almost certainly alive, the details of whose fate we may never know, but who probably fought for days, even weeks, before all trace of them disappeared.
"That tragic closing episode in our long involvement in Vietnam is not ranked in the first order of American battles. It was a quick, confused engagement that did not go according to plan. Except for its brevity, the Mayaguez rescue could have served as a fitting metaphor for the whole of our war in Southeast Asia.
"Like that war, the Mayaguez incident is recalled, when it is recalled at all, more for its mistakes than for the lessons of duty and honor exemplified in the conduct of the men who fought it.
"That is a shame. For in that encounter, as in the war that preceded it, Americans fought for love of country, and their service should be remembered in America as an affirmation of human virtue and a priceless element of our national self-respect.
"When the time came for them to answer their country's call and fight on a field they did not know, they came. And on that small island they served well the country that sent them there. In the fog of a hard battle gone wrong, they held high a lantern of courage and faith that illuminated the way home with honor.
"Where they rest is unknown, but their honor is eternal, and lives in our country for so long as we remain worthy of the sacrifices of such brave men. They were family and friends to some; heroes to us all – who lived, fought, and died for the love and honor of a free people.
"And for those of you who called these men your fellow soldiers in a war long ago, you pay them the greatest tribute imaginable by your continued service to our nation, and the new generation of heroes who now wear its uniform."
This page was last updated January 25, 2013.