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ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon leaders and representatives of all four military services honored the nation’s prisoners of war and missing in action servicemembers in a ceremony Friday.

“They may be missing in body, they are always present in spirit,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said during the event. While “the vagaries of war still mean we cannot account for everyone,” Gates pledged “not to relent in our efforts” to recover and identify the lost servicemembers.

According to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, there are more than 88,000 U.S. servicemembers whose whereabouts are unaccounted for, with 78,000 of those from World War II alone. On average JPAC identifies and repatriates the remains of about six missing American servicemembers a month, according to command officials.

Meanwhile, about 30,000 former prisoners of war are still alive today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace said during Friday’s ceremony.

“Their gift is simple, pure and heartfelt, from them to us, and it is our freedom,” Pace said.

The widow of Col. Charles Scharf, an Air Force F-4 pilot who crashed near Hanoi in 1965, spoke about efforts to locate and identify her husband’s remains, which finally took place in 2006.

Patricia Scharf said military forensic scientists used DNA from stamps on love letters he sent home to positively identify his remains. “He was buried in his uniform and medals, and with some of those love letters,” the widow said. “I visit him every week, and sit for a few moments of peace, talking to him.”

The names ...

During Friday’s POW event Secretary of Defense Robert Gates singled out the four POW/MIA soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom:

-- Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, missing since May 12, 2007

Assigned to Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team

-- Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, missing since May 12, 2007

Assigned to Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team

-- Spc. Ahmed K. Altaie, 41, missing since Oct. 23, 2006

Reservist assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team - Baghdad

-- Sgt. Keith M. Maupin, 20, missing since April 9, 2004

Reservist assigned to the 724th Transportation Company

Source: Department of Defense

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