An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

DOD Honors Prisoners of War, Those Missing in Action

National POW/MIA Recognition Day, the third Friday in September, honors U.S. service members who were prisoners of war and those still missing in action from every conflict since, and including, World War II.

The Defense Department has a steadfast commitment to finding, recovering, identifying and repatriating the remains of its heroes who are unaccounted for, said Kelly K. McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

A folded American flag rests on a black case.
Flag of Honor
A U.S. flag rests on a case containing possible human remains and material evidence in the logistics yard of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 30, 2023. The remains will be taken to the DPAA laboratory for further scientific analysis and potential identification.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Cole Yardley
VIRIN: 230830-F-FU430-3355

"The work is complex, arduous and often involves great risk. It is also a humanitarian effort that benefits from the strong cooperation of 45 partner nations," he said.

Every year for the last 30 years, leaders and forensic experts from the agency have briefed the families of the missing on the status of searches and identification of service members' remains.

Each family is provided an individual case summary on the status of their missing loved one, McKeague said. 

As of May 22, over 81,000 U.S. service members are still missing, with about 75% of those still missing in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the agency.

A diver jumps into the water.
Underwater Recovery Mission
Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Corey Smith, a diver assigned to Regional Dive Locker Pacific, jumps into the water during a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency underwater recovery mission in Nha Trang province, Vietnam, May 27, 2021.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Mitchell Ryan
VIRIN: 210627-A-KI027-0175M
With a jungle in the background, people stand in a line as a bucket is passed from one person to another.
Passing Buckets
Local Vietnamese workers pass buckets down a hill during a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recovery mission in Quang Nam province, Vietnam, June 13, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan McElderry
VIRIN: 210613-F-IY281-0280M
The search can be difficult because of rough terrain, very deep ocean locations with objects covered in sediment and adverse weather, among other things.

With so many still unaccounted for, the agency's mission will continue for the foreseeable future, both on land and at sea. 

Fortunately, advances in forensic sciences, such as the use of DNA, dental analysis and cranial or skeletal superimposition, along with an improved ability to compile more detailed historical records, make it possible for the agency to assess — or reassess — unidentified remains.

Family members, even distant relatives, can help the agency with the identification process by providing their DNA samples, as well as photographs of their lost loved ones, according to the agency.

A pair of hands holds a small specimen with tweezers.
Weighing a Specimen
Dr. Gregory E. Berg, lab case manager for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s scientific analysis directorate, weighs a portion of a test specimen in DPAA’s isotope lab on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 9, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. James Thompson
VIRIN: 200309-F-WW236-0043M

National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 through a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, every president has issued an annual proclamation commemorating that day.

Related Stories