By Christine WolfeDIA Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2011 – The Defense Intelligence Agency last week marked its 50th birthday – and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of U.S. military action in Vietnam – with a tribute to U.S. Sen. John McCain and all Vietnam War veterans.
"Your service and sacrifices for our nation during Vietnam and beyond are inspirational," said DIA Director Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess during the Nov. 4 observance after asking Vietnam War veterans to stand and be recognized. The event was aired live as a video teleconference viewed by current and former DIA employees around the world. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. and former DIA directors Patrick Hughes and James Williams also attended the observance in DIA’s Tighe Auditorium on Joint Base Bolling-Anacostia.
Burgess presented McCain with the DIA Director’s Award and the DIA Operational Intelligence report from Oct. 27, 1967, which cited his Navy A-4E aircraft as downed by surface-to-air missiles southwest of Hanoi.
Burgess also brought attention to the final days of the evacuation of Saigon, in April 4, 1975, when a C-5 transport plane carrying the first flight of Vietnamese orphans out of the country during “Operation Babylift” crashed in a rice paddy.
"This agency saw selfless sacrifice,” he said, noting that the casualties included five DIA employees charged with caring for the children on that flight. The crash was the single largest loss of agency personnel until 9/11.
McCain addressed the overflow crowd and thanked the agency and its veterans for the role they played in the fight and close of the Vietnam War.
McCain thanked Burgess for the job he is doing leading DIA and the agency's workforce worldwide. "I only wish that more of Americans could see for themselves the full extent of the remarkable job that that you do every single day for them," he said.
McCain recalled that it was just over 50 years ago that the ink was barely dry on then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's order to establish DIA before the organization found itself on the front lines in Vietnam. Later, as President John F. Kennedy began the gradual escalation of Americans involved in that war, DIA set the standard of service to take it through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Six Day War, Operation Desert Storm, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is the same standard of service that all of you continue to live up to today,” McCain said. "This is a special year for DIA as you mark your 50th anniversary. Of all the agencies of our government, DIA can truly say that it was born fighting."
McCain told those in the audience that regardless of the uniform they wear or the work accomplished as a DIA employee, their service is always worth it.
“There's no higher honor than to serve a just cause greater than your own self interests,” he said. “And for those of you who walked away from a confusing, painful and emotional experience of your time in the Vietnam War, you nevertheless chose to remain faithful to the cause of our nation and all who serve it. I commend you."