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.
"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.
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.
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.