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How many US service members are still missing?

  • Friday is National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day
  • About 82,000 United States service members remain unaccounted for
  • The identification process can take years

(NewsNation) — As the nation recognizes the tens of thousands of service members reported as missing in action or prisoners of war, families continue to grieve their losses and search for answers.

Friday marks National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, honoring the estimated 82,000 service members who remain unaccounted for from conflicts dating back to World War II.

Of those, about 75% of the losses are believed to be located in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). About 41,000 are presumed lost at sea.

Credit: Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

The U.S. Department of Defense estimates about 38,000 of those missing are recoverable.

Though decades have passed, the Defense Department hasn’t stopped searching for those missing. It has had some success, too. As recently as this month, the government has positively identified soldiers, pilots and tankers lost during World War II.

“The work is complex, arduous and often involves great risk,” DPAA Director Kelly McKeague said at an event in June. “It is also a humanitarian effort that benefits from the strong cooperation of 45 partner nations.”

The agency accounted for 81 people in the previous fiscal year, including those from the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War II.

Progress, however, hasn’t occurred across the board.

The identification process can last months or years, and the agency hasn’t been allowed to search for remains in North Korea since 2005. Although 55 boxes of excavated remains were turned over to the U.S. in 2018, about 7,491 service members remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. The agency believes 5,300 of those missing are still in North Korea.

Some haven’t returned from recent conflicts, either. Six people are listed as “missing” or “body not recovered” from the Iraq, Persian Gulf and Libya regions, according to the DPAA.

That includes two service members from Desert Storm, three defense department contractors from Iraqi Freedom and one service member lost in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon in Libya, the agency reported.


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