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Missing in action

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Title: Missing in action  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Shiloh Union order of battle, Battle of Franklin (1864) Union order of battle, Airwolf, Warsaw Uprising, Franz Eckerle
Collection: Military Personnel, Military Terminology, Missing in Action, War Casualties
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Missing in action

Grave of an unknown British soldier, killed in 1943 during the Battle of Leros. Because his identity is unknown, he is missing in action.
Grave of an unknown British Lance Corporal of the 50th Division, killed on D-day. Buried in Bayeux War Cemetery
Grave of an unknown paratrooper, killed in the Battle of Arnhem, 1944. Photographed in April 1945
Graves of 11 unknown British soldiers killed during World War II, in Rhodes CWGC war cemetery
Grave of an unknown Indian Army soldier in Lae War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
Wall crypts containing remains of unknown Italian soldiers killed during World War II, in a Rhodes cemetery
Grave of an unknown American soldier in Oise-Aisne Cemetery. Killed in 1917
Graves of unknown French soldiers killed during World War One. Each concrete cross has a metal plaque bearing the word "Inconnu" i.e. "Unknown"
Ossuary at the Gallipoli battlefield, containing the remains of 3000 unidentified French soldiers who died in 1915
Graves of unknown Eritrean Ascaris killed in 1941 during the Battle of Keren
the Garden of the Missing in Action in the National Military and Police Cemetery in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem

Missing in action (MIA) is a casualty classification assigned to armed services personnel and other combatants who are reported missing during wartime. They may have been killed, wounded, become a prisoner of war, or deserted. If deceased, neither their remains nor grave has been positively identified. Becoming MIA has been an occupational risk for as long as there has been warfare.

Contents

  • Problems and solutions 1
  • Before the 20th century 2
  • World War I 3
  • World War II 4
  • Korean War 5
    • Australians MIA In Korea 5.1
    • Korean unknowns 5.2
  • Vietnam War 6
  • Cold War 7
  • Iran–Iraq War 8
  • Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986 U.S. Bombing of Libya) 9
  • Gulf War 10
  • Global war on terrorism 11
    • Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq War) 11.1
    • Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan War) 11.2
  • Animals 12
  • Colloquial usage 13
  • See also 14
  • References 15
  • External links 16

Problems and solutions

Until around 1912, service personnel in most countries were not routinely issued with

  • DoD Instruction 1300.18 "Personnel Casualty Matters, Policies, and Procedures" From the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, January 8, 2008
  • Graphic photos showing recovery of missing Russian soldiers' remains dating from the Second World War
  • French site detailing the recovery of missing German soldiers dating from World War II
  • U.S.-Russia Joint MIA/POW Commission
  • Report of the State Senate Committee on POW/MIA Affairs at the Library of Congress
  • Current status of MIA's from the Vietnam War
  • Blog covers Widow’s travels to Vietnam in search of her MIA husband’s jet crash site in Que Son Mtns
  • English language short documentary showing the recovery of missing Russian soldiers from WWII

External links

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References

See also

MIA is sometimes used in American English to describe difficulty finding something, particularly a person. "The employee is MIA." It is less often used in this context in UK English, where the equivalent phrase is "gone AWOL".

Colloquial usage

Military animals can also be officially declared as being Missing In Action.

Animals

On July 4, 2011, a British soldier went missing in central Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The Taliban later confirmed responsibility for his capture, but also announced they had executed him when ISAF forces attempted to rescue him in the following hours.[135] The soldier was later named as twenty-year-old Highlander Scott McLaren of the 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. His body was recovered and returned to the UK.[136]

On July 1, 2009, US Army soldier SGT (then a PFC) Bowe Robert Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho, was declared missing, which was later changed to captured on July 3 of that year. A video was shown of him on July 18, 2009 indicating that he had been captured. A second video was released on December 25, 2009, again showing him in captivity. On April 7, 2010, the Taliban released a third video of Bergdahl in captivity. In the new video Bergdahl has a full head of hair, a beard and pleads for the release of Afghan prisoners that are held in Guantanamo and Bagram. On May 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that SGT Bergdahl was recovered by a U.S. Special Forces unit in conjunction with an exchange of five Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The effort was completed with the assistance of the Emir of Qatar.[134]

Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan War)

Also, the whereabouts of the three DoD contractors: Mr. Kirk Von Ackermann, Mr. Timothy E. Bell and Mr. Adnan al-Hilawi is unknown.

Although the Department of Defense claims that all of the servicemen above as accounted for, Major Troy Gilbert's body has not been recovered. A small amount of tissue was recovered from the crash site which was used to classify him as Killed in Action, Body Recovered. However, al-Qaeda has released two videos, showing the desecration of his body and his photo ID card. The US Air Force has recently agreed to resume looking for his body.

  • On April 9, 2004, US Army soldier SSG Keith Matthew "Matt" Maupin (at that time a PFC) was captured in an ambush near the Baghdad International Airport. On April 16, 2004, Maupin appeared on a videotape that was broadcast by the Arabic-language television network Al Jazeera. On June 28, 2004, Al Jazeera reported that Maupin was executed by a group identifying itself as The Persistent Power Against the Enemies of God and the Prophet. The method of execution in the video was a gunshot to the head. On March 30, 2008, Maupin's father told local newsmedia that the remains of his son had been found. He stated that an Army general had told him that DNA was used to identify the remains. According to an Army statement, Maupin's remains "were recovered northwest of Baghdad on March 20, by soldiers from 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, part of the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team."
  • On April 9, 2004 Mr. Timothy E. Bell, DoD contractor, was lost on April 9, 2004, while working in Baghdad, Iraq.[124]
  • On June 19, 2004, a US Marine of Lebanese background, CPL Wassef Ali Hassoun, went missing and claimed to have been captured. He later turned up in Lebanon, and was flown home to the U.S. It was soon discovered Hassoun made the kidnapping story up, and Hassoun is currently a fugitive.[126]
  • On June 16, 2006, a three-member US Army patrol in an armored humvee was overwhelmed south of Baghdad. One soldier died during the fight, while the other two were captured and tortured to death. Their names were PFC Kristian Menchaca and PFC Thomas Lowell Tucker. Their bodies were found on June 20, 2006.[127]
  • On October 23, 2006, US Army soldier SSG Ahmed Kousay Altaie (at that time a SPC) was captured by insurgents. He appeared in a proof of life video in February 2007 but was not heard of again. Ahmed's remains were recovered in February 2012.[128][129][130]
  • On November 27, 2006, an US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon, serial number 90-0776, from the 524th Fighter Squadron crashed near Fallujah while on a low-altitude ground-strafing run. The pilot, Major Troy Gilbert, was killed. His body was taken by insurgents. It was never recovered.
  • On January 20, 2007 insurgent commandos raided provincial headquarters in Karbala, Iraq (see Karbala provincial headquarters raid). The attacked resulted in three American soldiers being wounded and 1 killed. Four servicemen, CPT Brian Freeman, 1LT Jacob Fritz, SPC Jonathan Chism and PFC Shawn Falter were captured and executed.
  • On March 3, 2007 DOD Mr. Adnan al-Hilawi, DoD contractor, was lost on March 3, 2007, while working in Baghdad, Iraq.[125]
  • On May 12, 2007 a Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) claimed that they killed PVT Fouty and SPC Jimenez and also claimed that their bodies were buried and would not be returned to their families. On Wednesday July 9, 2008,[131] the bodies of PVT Byron Fouty and SPC Alex Jimenez were found in an area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death".[132] The families of the victims were notified and the Defense Department released a statement to the public on July 11, 2008.[133]
Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin, missing in action
  • On October 9, 2003 Mr. Kirk Von Ackermann, DoD contractor, was lost on Oct. 9, 2003, while working in Forward Operating Base Pacesetter, Iraq.[125]

A small number of coalition military personnel went missing in action in Iraq immediately following the 2003 invasion. Eight servicemen were captured and later released (see American POWs in the 2003 invasion of Iraq). Other cases were quickly resolved when the bodies were recovered. Following this were the following POW/MIA cases:

Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq War)

Global war on terrorism

  • Lt. Cmdr. Barry T. Cooke, U.S. Navy, was lost on Feb. 2, 1991, when his A-6 aircraft went down in the Persian Gulf.
  • Lt. Robert J. Dwyer, U.S. Navy, was lost on Feb. 5, 1991, when his FA-18 aircraft went down in the Persian Gulf.

The two cases KIABNR:[124]

How many Iraqi forces went missing as a result of the war is not readily known, as estimates of Iraqi casualties overall range considerably.

According to the United Nations General Assembly as part of his case for war. However, despite the 2003 invasion of Iraq and U.S. military control of the country, Speicher was not found and his status remained under debate.[120][121] It was eventually resolved in August 2009 when his remains were found in the Iraq desert where, according to local civilians, he was buried following his crash in 1991.[122][123]

Gulf War

April 15, 1986 - An F-111F Aardvark (Serial Number : 70-2389) was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), along with the pilot (Captain Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci) and Weapon Systems Officer (Captain Paul F. Lorence). Captain Ribas-Dominicci's body was returned to the US in 1989. Captain Lorence's body was never found. He is still listed as killed-in-action, body not recovered (KIA-BNR).[117]

Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986 U.S. Bombing of Libya)

In Iraq, efforts are led by the Ministry of Human Rights.[112][114]

In Iran, efforts at answering families' questions and identifying remains are led by the POWs and Missing Commission of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs.

[112] Families are still desperate for knowledge about the fate of their loved ones.[113] The

Following up on these cases is often difficult because no accurate or surviving documentation exists.[112] The situation in Iraq is additionally difficult because unknown hundreds of thousands persons are missing due to Iraq's later conflicts, both internal and external, and in Iran due to its being a largely closed society.[112] In addition, relations between the countries remained quite poor for a long time; the last POWs from the war were not exchanged until 2003[115] and relations did not begin to improve until after the regime change brought on by the 2003 onset of the Iraq War.[113] Some cases are brought forward when mass graves are discovered in Iraq, holding the bodies of Iranians once held prisoner.[113] Websites have been started to attempt to track the fates of members of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force shot down and captured over Iraq.[116]

The Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988 left tens of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi combatants, including some who had been held as prisoners of war, still unaccounted for.[112][113] Some counts include civilians who disappeared during the conflict.[113] One estimate is that more than 52,000 Iraqis went missing in the war.[114] Officially, the government of Iran lists 8,000 as missing.[113]

Iran–Iraq War

The 1991–1993 United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs investigated some outstanding issues and reports related to the fate of U.S. service personnel still missing from the Cold War.[75] In 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told the committee that the Soviet Union had held survivors of spy planes shot down in the early 1950s in prisons or psychiatric facilities.[110][111] Russian Colonel General Dmitri Volkogonov, co-leader of the U.S.–Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs, said that to his knowledge no Americans were currently being held against their will within the borders of the former Soviet Union.[75] The Select Committee concluded that it "found evidence that some U.S. POWs were held in the former Soviet Union after WW II, the Korean War and Cold War incidents," and that it "cannot, based on its investigation to date, rule out the possibility that one or more U.S. POWs from past wars or incidents are still being held somewhere within the borders of the former Soviet Union."[75]

  • Dec. 14, 1965, a U.S. Air Force RB-57 Canberra, (Serial Number : 63-13287), was lost over the Black Sea, flying out of Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The entire crew of two remains unaccounted for.
  • July 1, 1960, a U.S. Air Force RB-47 Stratojet, (Serial Number : 53-4281), stationed at RAF Brize Norton, England, was shot down over the Barents Sea. Of the six crew members on board, three remain unaccounted for.
  • Sept. 10, 1956, a U.S. Air Force RB-50 Superfortress, (Serial Number : 47-133), based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, with a crew of 16, was lost in Typhoon Emma over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew remains unaccounted for.
  • Aug. 22, 1956, a U.S. Navy P4M Mercator, (Bureau Number : 124362), was shot down off the coast of China. Of the 16 crew members on board, 12 remain unaccounted for.
  • April 17, 1955, a U.S. Air Force RB-47 Stratojet, (Serial Number : 51-2054), based at Eielson Air Base, Alaska, was shot down near the southern point of Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. The entire crew of three remains unaccounted for.
  • July 29, 1953, a U.S. Air Force RB-50 Superfortress, (Serial Number : 47-145), stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, was shot down over the Sea of Japan. Of the 17 crew members on board, 14 remain unaccounted for.
  • Jan. 18, 1953, a U.S. Navy P2V Neptune, (Bureau Number : 127744), with 13 crewmen aboard was shot down by the Chinese, in the Formosa Straits. Six crew members remain unaccounted for.
  • Nov. 28, 1952, a civilian C-47 Skytrain aircraft flying over China was shot down, and one American civilian remains unaccounted for.
  • Oct. 7, 1952, a U.S. Air Force RB-29 Superfortress, (Serial Number : 44-61815), stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan was shot down north of Hokkaido Island, Japan. Of the eight crewmen on board, seven remain unaccounted for.
  • June 13, 1952, a U.S. Air Force RB-29 Superfortress, (Serial Number : 44-61810), stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, was shot down over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew of 12 remains unaccounted for.
  • Nov. 6, 1951, a U.S. Navy P2V Neptune, (Bureau Number : 124283), was shot down over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew of 10 remains unaccounted for.

According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, as of 2000 there were still 126 U.S. servicemen unaccounted for from the Cold War.[109]

Cold War

According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, there are still 1,627 U.S. servicemen still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.[107][108]

[106].Hanoi are sometimes discovered: in January 2009, the remains of at least 50 anti-French resistance fighters dating from circa 1946 to 1947 were discovered in graves located under a former market in central French colonial era Additionally, remains dating from the earlier [105] There are also a large number of

This missing in action issue has been a highly emotional one to those involved, and is often considered the last depressing, divisive aftereffect of the Vietnam War. To skeptics, "live prisoners" is a [100]

Considerable speculation and investigation has gone to a theory that a significant number of these men were captured as prisoners of war by Communist forces in the two countries and kept as live prisoners after the war's conclusion for the United States in 1973. A vocal group of POW/MIA activists maintains that there has been a concerted conspiracy by the Vietnamese government and every American government since then to hide the existence of these prisoners. The U.S. government has steadfastly denied that prisoners were left behind or that any effort has been made to cover up their existence.[98] Popular culture has reflected the "live prisoners" theory, most notably in the 1985 film Rambo: First Blood Part II. Several congressional investigations have looked into the issue, culminating with the largest and most thorough, the United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs of 1991–1993 led by Senators John Kerry, Bob Smith, and John McCain. Its unanimous conclusion found "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia."[75]

About 80 percent of those missing were airmen who were shot down over North Vietnam or Laos, usually over remote mountains, tropical rain forest, or water; the rest typically disappeared in confused fighting in dense jungles.[55] Investigations of these incidents have involved determining whether the men involved survived their shootdown, and if not efforts to recover their remains. POW/MIA activists played a role in pushing the U.S. government to improve its efforts in resolving the fates of the missing. Progress in doing so was slow until the mid-1980s, when relations between the U.S. and Vietnam began to improve and more cooperative efforts were undertaken. Normalization of U.S. relations with Vietnam in the mid-1990s was a culmination of this process.

Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 U.S. prisoners of war were returned during Operation Homecoming. The U.S. listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered.[97] By the early 1990s, this had been reduced to a total of 2,255 unaccounted for from the war, which constituted less than 4 percent of the total 58,152 U.S. service members killed.[55] This was by far the smallest proportion in the nation's history to that point.[55]

"Missing in Action" plaque at Veterans Memorial Park in Rhome in north Texas
The fate of American POW/MIAs from the Georgia lists such figures.

Vietnam War

Since 1996, the remains of Korean People's Army soldiers recovered from battlefield exhumations across South Korea have been buried in the Cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers, the majority of the over 770 burials are unknowns.[96]

Korean unknowns

A number of Australian military personnel have also never been recovered from Korea.[95]

Australians MIA In Korea

As of January 27, 2015, the JPAC/DOD/Missing in Action is now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency[94]

As of August 2015 there are no plans to go to North Korea for MIAS[93]

In October 2014, North Korea announced it was going to move the remains of about 5,000 US servicemen en masse.[92]

In 2013 the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold war POWS/MIAS started an online petition to Obama to resolve the mysteries of the Forgotten War POWs and MIAs.

In March 21, 2012, US President Obama's administration suspended talks with North Korea over the recovery of US servicemen killed and missing in North Korea;[88][89][90][91]

In March 8, 2012 the US announced it would search for MIAS in North Korea[84]

In February 2012 talks were going ahead between the US and North Korea to resume discussions to recover US MIAs after seven years.[86]

In January 2012 it was announced that members of JPAC would go to North Korea in the spring to search for an estimated 5,000 MIAs in Unsan and the Chosin Reservoir areas.[87]

In 2011 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted Resolution # 423 calling for renewed discussions with North Korea to recover Americans missing in action[86]

In 2010 it was reported that the Obama administration was reversing the Bush administration's suspended talks in regard to North Korea MIAs.[85]

In 2005 the US suspended talks with North Korea over the recovery of MIAs.[84]

According to DPAA estimates, there are 3,067 to 3,828 MIAS in North Korea.[83]

As of June 2015 the estimated number of Korea War MIAs is 7,850[81] to 7,846.[82]

In the United States Armed Forces, the 8,177 service members listed as missing in action constituted over 15 percent of the total killed in the conflict.[55]

There are many missing combatants from the Korean War. It is thought that 13,000 South Korean soldiers and 2,000 U.S. soldiers are buried in the Korean Demilitarized Zone alone.[78]
The U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the equivalent South Korean command are actively involved in trying to locate and identify remains of both countries' personnel.[78] Remains of missing combatants from the Korean War are periodically recovered and identified.[79][80]

While the United States knew in 1953 that at least 900 soldiers were held captive by North Korea and never released, this information was never released. Historians suggest this was because Americans would have demanded their soldiers be returned home.
The 1991–1993 United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs investigated some outstanding issues and reports related to the fate of U.S. service personnel still missing from the Korean War.[75]
In 1996, the Defense Department stated that there was no clear evidence any of the prisoners were still alive.[76]
As of 2005, at least 500 South Korean prisoners of war were believed to be still detained by the North Korean regime.[77]

In August 1953, General James Van Fleet, who had led U.S. and UN forces in Korea, estimated that "a large percentage" of those service members listed as missing in action were alive.[74]

In October 1950 an estimated 700 POWS were captured by the North Koreans.
By August 1953 only 262 were still alive; one of the survivors was Pfc Wayne A. "Johnnie" Johnson, who memorized 496 military and civilian POWS who had died; in 1996 Johnson was awarded the Silver Star medal for valor.[72][73]

Korean War

According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Accounting Office, there were still 73,515 U.S. servicemen still unaccounted for from World War II.[71]

In 2008, investigators began to conduct searches on Tarawa atoll in the Pacific Ocean, trying to locate the remains of 139 American Marines, missing since the Battle of Tarawa in 1943.[70]

During the 2000s, there was renewed attention within and without the U.S. military to finding remains of the missing, especially in the European Theatre and especially since aging witnesses and local historians were dying off.[69] The group World War II Families for the Return of the Missing was founded in 2005 to work with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and other governmental entities towards locating and repatriating the remains of Americans lost in the conflict.[69] The president of the group said in reference to the far more publicised efforts to find remains of U.S. dead from the Vietnam War, “Vietnam had advocates. This was an older generation, and they didn’t know who to turn to.”[69]

As with MIAs from the First World War, it is a routine occurrence for the remains of missing combatants killed during the Second World War to be periodically discovered.[56][57] Usually they are found purely by chance (e.g. during construction or demolition work) though on some occasions they are recovered following deliberate, targeted searches.[58][59][60][61][62] As with the First World War, in western Europe MIAs are generally found as individuals, or in twos or threes.[63] However, sometimes the numbers in a group are considerably larger e.g. the mass grave at Villeneuve-Loubet, which contained the remains of 14 German soldiers killed in August 1944.[56] Others are located at remote aircraft crash sites in various countries.[64][65][66] But in eastern Europe and Russia, World War II casualties include approximately two million missing Germans, and many mass graves remain to be found. Almost a half million German MIAs have been buried in new graves since the end of the Cold War. Most of them will stay unknown. The German War Graves Commission is spearheading the effort.[67] Similarly, there are approximately 4 million missing Russian service personnel scattered across the former Eastern Front, from Leningrad down to Stalingrad, though around 300 volunteer groups make periodic searches of old battlefields to recover human remains for identification and reburial.[68]

There are many missing combatants from World War II.[49][50][51][52][53][54] In the United States Armed Forces, 78,750 personnel missing in action had been reported by the end of the war, representing over 19 percent of the total of 405,399 killed during the conflict.[55]

World War II

Even in the 21st century, the remains of missing soldiers are recovered from the former battlefields of the Western Front every year. These discoveries happen regularly, often during the course of agricultural work or construction projects.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40] Typically, the remains of one or several men are found at a time.[41] However, occasionally the numbers recovered are much larger e.g. the mass grave at Fromelles (excavated in 2009) which contained the skeletal remains of no less than 250 Allied soldiers.[42][43][44][45] Another example is the excavation which took place at Carspach (Alsace region of France) in early 2012, which uncovered the remains of 21 German soldiers, lost in an underground shelter since 1918, after being buried by a large-calibre British artillery shell.[46][47] Regardless, efforts are made to identify any remains found via a thorough forensic examination. If this is achieved, attempts are made to trace any living relatives. However, it is frequently impossible to identify the remains, other than to establish some basic details of the unit they served with. In the case of British and Commonwealth MIAs, the headstone is inscribed with the maximum amount of information that is known about the person.[48] Typically, such information is deduced from metallic objects such as brass buttons and shoulder flashes bearing regimental/unit insignia found on the body. As a result, headstones are inscribed with such information as "A Soldier of The Cameronians" or "An Australian Corporal" etc. Where nothing is known other than that the person fought on the allied side, the headstone is inscribed "A Soldier of The Great War". The term "Sailor" or "Airman" can be substituted, as appropriate.

The phenomenon of MIAs became particularly notable during World War I, where the mechanized nature of modern warfare meant that a single battle could cause astounding numbers of casualties. For example, in 1916 over 300,000 Allied and German service personnel were killed in the Battle of the Somme. A total of 19,240 British and Commonwealth troops were killed in action or died of wounds on the first day of that battle alone. It is therefore not surprising that the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in France bears the names of 72,090 British and Commonwealth soldiers, all of whom went missing in action during the Battle of the Somme, were never found and who have no known grave. Similarly, the Menin Gate memorial in Belgium commemorates 54,896 missing Allied soldiers who are known to have been killed in the Ypres Salient. The Douaumont ossuary, meanwhile, contains 130,000 unidentifiable sets of French and German remains from the Battle of Verdun.

World War I

It is possible that some of the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC went missing in action. Certainly, the numerous wars which followed over successive centuries created many MIAs. The list is long and includes most battles which have ever been fought by any nation. The usual problems of identification caused by rapid decomposition were exacerbated by the fact that it was common practice to loot the remains of the dead for any valuables e.g. personal items and clothing. This made the already difficult task of identification even harder. Thereafter the dead were routinely buried in mass graves and scant official records were retained. Notable examples include such medieval battles as Towton,[30] the Hundred Years' War, the later English Civil Wars and Napoleonic Wars[31][32][33] together with any battle taking place until around the middle of the 19th century. Starting around the time of the Crimean War, American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, it became more common to make formal efforts to identify individual soldiers. However, since there was no formal system of ID tags at the time, this could be difficult during the process of battlefield clearance. Even so, there had been a notable shift in perceptions e.g. where the remains of a soldier in Confederate uniform were recovered from, say, the Gettysburg battlefield, he would be interred in a single grave with a headstone which stated that he was an unknown Confederate soldier. This change in attitudes coincided with the Geneva Conventions, the first of which was signed in 1864. Although the first Geneva Convention did not specifically address the issue of MIAs, the reasoning behind it (which specified the humane treatment of wounded enemy soldiers) was influential.

Before the 20th century

The development of genetic fingerprinting in the late 20th century means that if cell samples from a cheek swab are collected from service personnel prior to deployment to a combat zone, identity can be established using even a small fragment of human remains. Although it is possible to take genetic samples from a close relative of the missing person, it is preferable to collect such samples directly from the subjects themselves. It is a fact of warfare that some combatants are likely to go missing in action and never be found. However, by wearing ID tags and using modern technology the numbers involved can be considerably reduced. In addition to the obvious military advantages, conclusively identifying the remains of missing service personnel is highly beneficial to the surviving relatives. Having positive identification makes it somewhat easier to come to terms with their loss and move on with their lives. Otherwise some relatives may suspect that the missing person is still alive somewhere and may return someday.[24][25][26][27][28][29] However, many of these identifying procedures are not typically used for combatants who are members of militias, mercenary armies, insurrections, and other irregular forces.

) the remains are interred with a tombstone which indicates their unknown status. dental records testing and comparison of DNA if ever. When missing combatants are recovered and cannot be identified after a thorough forensic examination (including such methods as [23]

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