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Clinton Asks for MIAs Accounting

November 11, 1999

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Under gray skies at Arlington National Cemetery, President Clinton paid tribute Thursday to the nation’s war dead. ``We owe them a debt we can never repay,″ he said.

A chilly wind kept the American flags waving in the porticoes of the amphitheater where Clinton spoke to about 800 veterans and their families after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Clinton highlighted a new military spending bill as proof of his commitment to ``the best-trained, best-equipped, best-prepared″ military in the world. He also announced the remains of three Korean War MIAs would be returned to U.S. soil Thursday night.

A military honor guard lined the driveway as the president’s motorcade entered the cemetery and passed by rows of plain white headstones. Ceremonial canon blasts reverberated off the nearby hills.

``When the 20th century began, the headstones that stand in silent formation on these beautiful hills covered fewer than 200 acres,″ Clinton said. ``Today, at century’s end, they cover more than 600 acres.

``Hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world sleep in peace because more than a million Americans rest in peace. Here, and in graves, marked and unmarked, all across the world,″ he said. ``Today we come again to say we owe them a debt we can never repay.″

The Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard, dressed in white, marched to the front of the audience as the U.S. Army Band played a martial tune. The tuba players’ sheet music blew away when they struck up Battle Hymn of the Republic, but the rain that threatened to mar the ceremony never fell.

Clinton singled out for recognition Capt. Earl Fox, a retiring Coast Guard medical officer who is the last World War Two veteran on active duty, and Heather Renee French, the reigning Miss America and daughter of a disabled Vietnam veteran, who has championed the cause of homeless veterans.

``We thank you for what you’re doing,″ Clinton told Miss French. ``We must not rest until we have done everything we possibly can to bring them back into the society they so willingly defended.″

In the same vein, Clinton stressed the importance of recovering those soldiers left behind or still listed as misisng after U.S. campaigns abroad.

``I am very proud to announce today that we have successfully recovered the remains of three more United States servicemen lost during the Korean War. They’re coming home tonight,″ the president said to a burst of applause. ``But we must not waver in our common efforts to make the fullest possible accounting for all our MIAs, for all their families to have their questions answered.″

Separately, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater posthumously awarded the Purple Heart to 111 Coast Guardsmen who died aboard the cutter Tampa in 1918. The Tampa was sunk by a German U-boat off the British coast after escorting a supply convoy.

``We not only honor the brave crew members of the Tampa, but also recognize the courage of the women and men of the coast Guard who over the past two centuries have put themselves at risk in the service of their country,″ Slater said.

Most of the NATO sorties flown over Kosovo were flown by U.S. pilots, who at times faced heavy enemy fire. However, U.S. forces suffered not a single combat fatality during the campaign. ``That is a tribute to the professionalism we see every day from our military forces all around the world,″ Clinton said.

The president said the military spending bill he signed last month would ``keep us moving in that direction, with the start of the first sustained increase in military spending in a decade and the biggest pay increase for our troops in a generation.″

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