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VIDEO: Mattis hosts National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at Pentagon

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks during the 9/11 Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11, 2018. During the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, 184 people were killed at the Pentagon. (U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
September 21, 2018

On Friday, the Pentagon carried out its annual ceremony to commemorate National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis hosted the event at the ceremony, which was held at the Pentagon’s River Terrace Parade Field.

The annual ceremony takes place on the third Friday in Sept. each year. The event formally recognizes U.S. service members who served in war, but never returned, and pays respects to those individuals and their families. It includes members from each branch of the military.

“This observance is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag, according to a release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).  “The others are Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.”

This year’s ceremony included the families of the two U.S. service members recently identified after their remains were repatriated from North Korea.

Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel of Vernon, Ind., who was 32, and Army Pfc. William H. Jones of Nash County, N.C., who was 19, are the first two veterans to be identified by the DPAA almost two months after the remains were repatriated. The two went missing after respective battles with Chinese forces during the Korean War in Nov. 1950.

As of 2017, an estimated 83,000 U.S. service members were reportedly still missing from wars, a DPAA release said last year. In 2016, the agency carried out “40 recovery missions and 34 investigative missions” to bring home U.S. personnel. Their efforts resulted in 155 missing U.S. service members becoming identified or accounted for.

July 18, 1979 was the first time Congress passed legislation to hold a national ceremony for the U.S. service members who were POWs or MIAs, according to the National League of POW/MIA Families. Before then, no official commemoration was held to recognize them.

“It is our sacred obligation to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of our Armed Forces who have been imprisoned while serving in conflicts and who have yet to return to American soil,” President Trump said in a White House statement last year.

“We reflect on the brave Americans who, while guarding our freedom and our way of life, spent years of their youth imprisoned in distant lands.  They paid an enormous price and remained dedicated to our sacred principles, even while under extreme duress,” he added.

President Trump also designated Sept. 15 as “National POW/MIA Recognition Day,” in his statement last year.