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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top leaders on Friday paid tribute to sacrifices made by U.S. prisoners of war and missing in action, including more than 80,000 fallen Americans whose remains haven’t been recovered and the one American servicemember in captivity today.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke at a Pentagon ceremony that included former POWs and family members of the missing, and promised that the Defense Department personnel who work to find and recover fallen troops would not stop.

“Their efforts are fueled by human sweat and ignited by their unwavering determination,” Dempsey said. “They keep our nation’s promise to never leave a fallen comrade. Their efforts reach deep into the four corners of the globe, into foreign lands and far from home — from World War II battlefields across Europe to the islands of the Pacific, from the Pusan to the Yalu River, from Saigon to Hanoi, and those still missing from our most recent conflict.”

Hagel said the U.S. government remains dedicated to bringing home the nation’s only known POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured by Taliban in 2009.

“Our hearts today are with the Bergdahl family,” he said. “Using our military, intelligence, and diplomatic tools, the United States is continuing its efforts to secure Sgt. Bergdahl’s safe release.”

Among others, Hagel singled out Army chaplain Father Emil Kapaun, who died as a POW in Korea in 1951. His fellow prisoners, who remembered Kapaun’s self-sacrificing service to fellow prisoners, waged a decadeslong campaign to have the Catholic priest awarded the Medal of Honor. The effort bore fruit in April — a reminder of the nation’s duty to fallen heroes, Hagel said.

“For despite the passage of time, the memories of those missing in action still burn bright,” Hagel said. “And their stories still inspire new generations of Americans.”


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