WASHINGTON -- For Gen. Mark Milley, the Pentagon ceremony Wednesday was personal.
Twenty years ago, Milley stood on an airfield in Hawaii to see home the bodies of Army Lt. Cols. Ronnie Cory and George Martin, two men he had served with who died on a mission to help bring home the remains of fallen service members from the Vietnam War.
“The progress they achieved down to the very last action, their very last breath to fulfill the sacred promise of never leaving a fallen comrade behind is unbelievably humbling to all of us that are still alive,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the ceremony.
The men were among the seven American service members and nine Vietnamese government officials and air crew who were killed April 7, 2001, when their Mi-17 helicopter collided with a mountain in Quang Binh province as weather conditions deteriorated.
The Americans were in Vietnam to survey proposed sites for possible remains for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency.
“These men paid the ultimate sacrifice, endeavoring to find fellow Americans they had never met, who themselves made the last full measure of devotion,” DPAA director Kelly McKeague said during the ceremony.
The American service members who died along with Cory and Martin were Air Force Maj. Charles Lewis; Air Force Master Sgt. Steven Moser; Navy Chief Petty Officer Pedro Gonzales, a hospital medical corpsman; Army Sgt. 1st Class Tommy Murphy; and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Flynn.
The ceremony was held in the Pentagon corridor dedicated to prisoners of war and those still missing in action. It was one of three held Wednesday in remembrance of those who died, with another in Hawaii and in Vietnam at the crash site.
Ha Kim Ngoc, Vietnamese ambassador to the United States, was also at the Pentagon ceremony.
Ngoc was friends with Nguyen Than Ha, who was a colleague at the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons and was killed in the crash.
“So I bear the pain with the families and friends who are here or not present today. We share with you the harsh truth that the cost of a war extends beyond the battlefields,” he said during the ceremony.
Cory’s son, Rennie Cory III, thanked those who attended.
“Events like this are very special,” he said. “It’s good to know that they’ll be remembered and it’s good to take that time. And to those that continue to serve the mission, it’s appreciated.”
Michael Ellerbe Sr. was best friends with Cory since the 7th grade and their lives and Army careers were nearly identical: from playing on the same sports teams to going to Ranger school together.
He said he feels Cory’s presence every day.
“Other than my own father, he was probably the most influential person in my life,” he said.