Radio Address to the Nation on POW's and MIA's in Southeast Asia

July 19, 1986

My fellow Americans:

At this moment, just two blocks from the White House, more than 1,000 relatives of the men still missing from the Vietnam war are gathered for the 17th annual meeting of the National League of Families. Like the story of their loved ones in Vietnam, their story, too, is one of heroism.

Only a few short years ago, there was little interest and less hope here in Washington about the POW/MIA issue. The matter was given little priority by the intelligence community. The national media featured only occasional reports, and there were no international negotiations. The Governments of Vietnam and Laos believed America was no longer really interested in her lost sons. All of this now has dramatically changed. Today our intelligence is far better than it was in the past. The media, the government, and all of America are concerned. And today we're engaged in negotiations with both Vietnam and Laos -- negotiations that have helped return more of our men to their families than at any time since the end of the war. These men died in battle for their country, and it's only right and fitting that they finally rest now in the Nation they loved so dearly and for which they so willingly sacrificed.

So, there have been steps foward, but this doesn't mean that there still isn't need for more progress, much more progress. In Laos our joint crash-site evacuations are bringing results, but many questions still remain. I'm glad to report that the Lao Government has pledged to answer these questions, and I look forward to an improving relationship and the acceleration of our joint efforts. I also want to express appreciation for the increasing cooperation of the Government of Vietnam in the humanitarian quest. Other differences must not be allowed to interfere in our effort to resolve this issue. We must continue to go forward. It's the only responsible path, and it is in the interest of both our peoples.

There are a number of people to thank for what has been accomplished. Believe me, we could not have come this far without the critical bipartisan support of our friends in Congress. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has held difficult hearings to pursue whether a factual basis exists for many of the public claims about our missing men. The Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the House of Representatives has played a most responsible role, as have other longtime advocates of this issue in both Houses. There are others who also need to be thanked. And so, to our national veterans organizations and especially our Vietnam veterans, I want to extend my gratitude for your support of this administration's efforts and those of the National League of Families. And to all the others in this administration, including the many Vietnam veterans and returned POW's interviewing in the refugee camps in Southeast Asia, those in the identification lab in Hawaii, in the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, and across the negotiating table in Hanoi, you have my profound thanks for undertaking and staying with this most exacting and difficult task.

But finally, there is that one group that deserves our thanks most of all -- the real heroes in this: the fathers and mothers, the wives, the sons and daughters, and other relatives of our POW's and MIA's. They never gave up. They never stopped loving. And on behalf of every American, I want to promise each of them today: We mean to end your heartache and uncertainty. We will vigorously pursue the answers you seek and deserve. We will apply every resource we can to achieve the fullest possible accounting of your relatives still missing in Southeast Asia.

This is, of course, a difficult and emotional issue. It's no secret there are those who want to promise easy solutions or even exploit this issue for selfish reasons. But we have made progress. And the truth is we will continue to make progress as long as we stick with the facts and keep faith with each other and demonstrate the unity of purpose so fundamental to our cause. All Americans, after all, have a common goal in this endeavor: Freedom for any prisoner who may still be held in Southeast Asia and justice for all of the families who've worked so long to resolve the fate of our POW's and MIA's in Vietnam. They were our loved ones and our fellow Americans; and they were, I'm certain time will tell, part of a noble cause and history's heroes.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.