Richard Nixon photo

Remarks to the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

September 28, 1971

Mrs. North, Mr. Secretary, and all of the distinguished guests who are at the head table, and all of those who are in this audience:

I have spoken in this room many times over the past, believe it or not, 24 years, starting as a Congressman. I can assure all of you that this brief remark that I will now address to you is spoken more from the heart, I think, than anything I have ever said before.

The Secretary of Defense--and I have had an opportunity to read his remarks and endorse them--will address you later. He will tell you what we have been doing, what we are doing, what we hope to do with regard to the great objective in which all of you and all of us are interested-and that is obtaining the release of all of our POW's and missing in action wherever they may be in Southeast Asia.

But I wish to underline what the Secretary will tell you by indicating the personal commitment of the President of the United States. As you can imagine, whoever holds the office of the Presidency cannot take upon himself all of the various assignments that come across his desk. Much must be delegated.

I want each and every one of you to know, however, that from the time in the White House Library, at Christmastime 1969, I met a group of the wives and one mother of some POW's and missing in action--from that time, as the Secretary of Defense can tell you, as the Secretary of State can tell you, I have considered the problem of obtaining the release of our POW's and missing in action as being one that has Presidential priority.

I can assure you that every negotiating channel--and now I say something here that I am sure all of you will understand-including many private channels that have not yet been disclosed, have been pursued, are being pursued, and will be pursued.

I can assure you that with regard to this problem, too, that whenever any matter comes to the attention of the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State, from a Senator or Congressman or the rest, it is brought to my desk and we run out the lead, whatever it may be.

You know the tragedy we have found so often--hopes raised and then dashed, because we are dealing here with a savage enemy, one who have no concern for humanitarian ideals.

But on the other hand, we believe that it is essential to check every possible lead; we don't care where it comes from. We are doing that, I have personally ordered that, and we will continue to do so. And I believe that we will eventually succeed in our goal. That is my commitment that I make to all of you.

Now, I have delayed your dinner too long, but I would like to add one other rather personal note. Many times when I travel around the country, people--particularly young people that are in school-will say, "You know, Mr. President, that must be a terribly awesome responsibility to serve as President of the United States." And people sometimes feel that all of the great burdens of the world are on the shoulders of the President and that the responsibilities are indeed awe inspiring. I would be less than candid if I were not to say the responsibilities were heavy.

But let me tell you something: Any day that I sometimes feel that it has been a rather hard day, and that I have had to make some real tough decisions, and that I haven't had very much support, and when any time I begin to feel a bit sorry for myself, I think back to that day just before Christmas in '69.

I think of airports where children have come up and said, "My daddy is missing in action." I think of the wives that I have seen and the mothers and the rest. I think of their courage and what they have done and what they have given for their country, and then I realize my job isn't all that hard.

I am just so proud of how great you have been, and I am not going to let you down, I can assure you.

Note: The President spoke at 7:15 p.m. to a dinner meeting of the League in the Statler-Hilton Hotel.

Carol North was national chairman of the League.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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