Written on the flag that commemorates U.S. service members that are being held as prisoners of war or have gone missing in action is a promise: You are not forgotten.
Unfortunately, those who aren’t directly affected by a loved one or military coworker who is a POW or MIA likely only actively remember these service members at important functions, with the setting of the POW/MIA table. That being said, there is a less well-known moment to take time to remember those who served and have not yet — or may never — make it home.
In 1979, Congress and President Jimmy Carter passed a resolution declaring the third Friday in September to be the date in which we, as a nation, remember those whose fates remain unknown.
The remembrance day is not just to honor those who have been lost fighting for the United States, it’s also to assure current and future service men and women that the people of the United States and its military will do everything they can to find those who were captured or went missing. And we will bring them home.
A 2005 Congressional Research Service report documented tallies of American military members who were captured by the enemy and notes those who died in captivity. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, who never stops searching and trying to identify the repatriated remains of those missing in action, also keeps a tally.
The following is an accounting of all those who’ve been captured or have gone missing since World War II.
American airmen held in a Nazi Stalag Luft POW Camp during World War II.
World War II
As of 2005, Congress reported 130,201 service members were imprisoned during World War II, 14,072 of which died. There are approximately 73,014 from World War II who are still missing, but those numbers are incomplete at best due to limited information from the time period.
Americans captured by Communist forces in the Korean War.
Of the 7,140 service members who were imprisoned during the Korean War, 2,701 of them died as a result of their captivity. There are still 7,729 missing in action.
In 2016, the DPAA accounted for 61 missing from the Korean War. Recently, President Trump’s efforts to repatriate remains from North Korea yielded the return of 55 sets, two of which have been identified.
Americans held by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War were marched through the streets of Hanoi.
Roughly 64 prisoners of war held by the enemy during the Vietnam War died as a result of being held captive out of a total 725 held prisoner. An estimated 1,603 are still unaccounted for from the conflict in Southeast Asia.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch (left) was captured by Iraqi forces after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Her friend, Pvt. Lori Ann Piestewa (right), was killed in that action.
Conflicts Since 1991
Since 1991, a further 37 servicemen and women have been captured by the enemy during various conflicts, including the most recent in Iraq and Afghanistan. None are still in captivity, but six are still missing from those conflicts.
This brings the total number of American missing from conflicts since World War II to a whopping 82,478. A full three-fourths are believed to be lost in the Asia-Pacific region of the world, with 41,000 presumed lost at sea.
You are not forgotten.