NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) estimates that there are over 80,000 Americans who never returned home at the end of World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf Wars.
Out of the more than 80,000 missing, nearly half are presumed to be lost at sea and 75% of the losses are in the Indo-Pacific. Those whose whereabouts are still unknown are classified as missing in action, or MIA, and many others may have been prisoners of war, or POWs.
Each year Memorial Day is recognized as a time to honor and mourn the military members who have died while serving in the U.S. forces, as well as the thousands of missing service members who are gone but not forgotten.
The list of service members missing in action includes more than 1,400 Tennesseans who are still unaccounted for. As of May 2023, 1,231 military members from Tennessee who served during World War II were listed as MIA, according to the DPAA.
Another 182 military members from Tennessee are still unaccounted for after their service in the Korean War and 47 Tennesseans who served in the military during the Vietnam War are missing and still have not been found.
Some of those missing are among the thousands of U.S. soldiers, sailors and marines who were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese during World War II, according to the DPAA. The “horrible treatment” they received in Japanese POW camps is the subject of numerous books.
Private James Aaron joined the U.S. Army in Tennessee and served with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, which was stationed in the Philippines during World War II while the Japanese military occupied the islands.
He was captured following the American surrender on the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942 and taken to the Cabanatuan Prison Camp, where he died of malaria about two months later, according to the DPAA.
Poor conditions at the camp reportedly led to widespread malnutrition and outbreaks of malaria, dengue, dysentery and hookworm, resulting in the deaths of nearly 2,800 American military members by the time the camp was liberated in early 1945.
The dead were buried by prisoners who were forced to place them in communal graves, often without markers. The unmarked graves made it difficult to identify and recover remains after the war, the DPAA reported.
Private Aaron’s remains could not be associated with any remains recovered from Cabanatuan, but recovery efforts remain active. Today, Aaron is among those memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
Since the renewal of U.S. POW/MIA recovery efforts in the 1970s, the DPAA reports that the remains of nearly 1,000 Americans killed in World War II have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
To view a full list of the 1,400 military members from Tennessee who are still unaccounted for visit the DPAA’s website by clicking here. The DPAA also has information available on some of their stories and likely resting spots.
Hundreds of Tennesseans remain listed as missing in action from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. News 2 looks at the efforts to keep their memories alive in the special report: Gone But Not Forgotten.