I regard this as a sacred ceremony. The ultimate moral underpinning of this Agency is how we deal with the responsibility on a day-to-day basis of knowing that some of our comrades are placed at risk. The ultimate moral responsibility that we have that distinguishes us as an agency is that many of our closest comrades in the performance of their duties risk their lives to defend this country. When we fail at protecting their lives and lose a comrade, we have a special obligation to honor those individu als, those men and women, the men and women who are behind the stars, and to keep their memory in front of us all.
In many cases, we have required that the work of these individuals, their accomplishments, and even their names remain secret. This year for the first time at the close of the ceremony there will be a roll call of all the individuals who have given their lives for their country. We will read these names with respect and with pride.
We have a special tribute on this occasion for those employees of CIA and the contractors who died during the Vietnam War.
During the long years of agonizing conflict, the Agency had the important and grim job of repeating messages that no one wanted to hear: that there would be no easy victory, that the struggle would be long and the cost would be high. Yet when asked to c ontribute to that war effort, the Agency offered its best people and its best effort. And we paid a very high price for that effort in the lives that were lost.
The first and last casualties of the conflict in Indochina were intelligence officers. The first was an army officer assigned to the OSS who was killed in a Vietminh ambush in 1945. The last was a [retired] CIA officer who returned during the fall of Sai gon in 1975. He was arrested and imprisoned and died in captivity some six months later.
During the height of the war, from 1965 through 1975, we lost 15 more Agency people in Vietnam and Laos. I will mention just a few of them, who have not been acknowledged before, and whose families are here today: [the names of these individuals have bee n omitted because they were under cover.]
These people were all from diverse backgrounds and just reading these names gives you a sense of the breadth of the contribution that was made by those who lost their lives in the service of the Agency. They had one common feature, they all had dedicatio n to the service of their country.
The end of the war in Southeast Asia did not put an end to the vulnerability of our officers or to the addition of stars to this wall. We are here today to honor all of the men and women represented by these stars, whether they died in Indochina, or the M iddle East, or out on route 123.
I would like to say a word to those family members who have come here today to pay honor and respect with us. I know that you shared the hardships of difficult posts where your loved ones were assigned, you endured long separations, you worried, and then
you suffered a terrible loss. There is no way that this government, this Agency, this country can adequately express our sympathy. We want you to know that we wish you peace and offer you our deepest respect for your courage and devotion. I am pleased
to meet with you to honor these great men and women who have served their country. Thank you very much.