On Wednesday afternoon, Republicans and Democrats came together in Emancipation Hall at the Capitol to unveil a commemorative chair in honor of the nation’s prisoners of war and our nearly 83,000 servicemen and women missing in action. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI01, made the following remarks at the ceremony, as prepared for delivery:
First, I just want to say: Sam Johnson is not only my colleague and my friend. He is my personal hero. It is such an honor to be part of this moment with you…
When I think about what this chair represents, I think about the families.
I think about the Hendrickson family in my hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
Everyone knew ‘Uncle Donnie’ growing up. They knew that when he was in Korea he kept a picture of his mother, Sadie, right next to his heart. They knew that he wrote home about the good fight he was fighting.
They knew him. But they never really met him.
U.S. Army Corporal Donald Hendrickson was 19 when he was reported missing in action, last seen during a battle in December of 1950 when the temperature fell to 35 below.
While his letters stopped, his mother’s did not.
Sadie kept writing to her son right up until the moment he was declared dead. His remains were listed as “non-recoverable.”
Still, Sadie never gave up, filling her home with stories and memories…anything to keep him alive.
For the families of our POWs and MIAs—heroes in their own right—there is so much waiting…so many prayers…and closure that may never come.
But. There is always the hope of reunion.
Last year, more than six and a half decades on, Corporal Hendrickson’s remains were identified, and brought home.
On a blustery Saturday last October, he was buried with full military honors at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.
His great niece received the flag. His community lined the procession route.
And, just how in life he kept that picture close, that is how Donald Hendrickson was laid to rest: by his mother’s side.
There is always the hope of reunion.
Think about the mothers today. Think about the families.
Think of them on Veterans Day, and every day if you can.
Think of the families when you visit this marker in this place, at the heart of our republic.
Thank you for all being here.