Congressional Dedication of a Commemorative Chair Honoring American Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action
‘As we dedicate this place of honor today, we all hope and pray that many more of us will have the opportunity to shake the hand of a hero upon his or her own homecoming. Until that day, we will continue to hold this chair open as a symbol on behalf of a hopeful and grateful nation.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate dedicated a commemorative chair in the U.S. Capitol honoring American Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action. The following are U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remarks delivered during the ceremony, which took place in Emancipation Hall, in the U.S. Capitol:
“Today, we come together to pay tribute to the brave American servicemembers who never came back. Some were last seen as prisoners of war. Some remain missing in action. Though they reside with us in our hearts still, our country will continue working until the last brave American comes home.
“That is the mission of the Department of Defense’s POW / MIA Accounting Agency, which goes to extraordinary lengths to find heroes and bring closure to families. I thank them for their ongoing impressive work. The men and women of this agency know, as we all do, the life-changing impact of each and every soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who comes back — life-changing for themselves, life-changing for their families, life-changing for their communities — and vital for our country.
“One individual who ultimately returned home, Paul Sears, is a native of Somerset, Kentucky. He served as a tail-gunner in the Army’s Eighth Air Force in World War II. When his B-17 bomber was shot down on its tenth and final mission over the skies of northern Europe, he was forced to endure a new type of battle.
“As a prisoner of war, Mr. Sears faced disease, malnourishment, and some of the worst human indignities imaginable. For many months after, he survived captivity at the hands of a brutal enemy regime. During that time, his family bore the pain of fear and uncertainty. To them, his absence was both physical and emotional.
“Today, in the halls of Congress — the seat of our government — we dedicate this chair as a visible reminder of such an absence. Communities across the nation have kept a vacant chair in solemn tribute. The chairs stand as a constant reminder of the servicemen and women who never came home. To their friends and loved ones, these brave men and women are never forgotten. And in the minds of the nation for which they sacrificed so much, they will not be forgotten either.
“This chair may be empty, but our hearts are not. It’s a reminder of our shared loss and it helps us to keep the missing with us always. We continue to hope for their return. For that reason, the empty chair also stands as preparation for the future. We have a seat of honor ready for their homecoming.
“On this day, we prepare this chair for more than 1,300 patriotic unaccounted Kentuckians – and for thousands more from all corners of our country. I am proud that my office posts the National League of Families’ POW/MIA flag out front every morning. And I think I can speak for every Senate colleague when I say that we are all proud to serve with a hero named Senator John McCain who was able to return home just as Paul Sears did.
“I had the distinct privilege of meeting Mr. Sears a few years ago at an Honor Flight event here in Washington. I had the opportunity to shake this hero’s hand and thank him for his service and sacrifice. As we dedicate this place of honor today, we all hope and pray that many more of us will have the opportunity to shake the hand of a hero upon his or her own homecoming. Until that day, we will continue to hold this chair open as a symbol on behalf of a hopeful and grateful nation.”