Militaries use the
term "killed in action" (KIA) as a casualty classification. They
generally use it to describe the deaths of their own forces by other hostile
forces or by friendly fire during combat. U.S. front-line-ground-combat
forces remain male only. However, U.S. naval, air, and support troops contain
females, as well as other nations' forces, and militaries can consider them
KIA. The United States Department of
Defense (DOD) says the KIA (man or woman) need not have fired his weapon
but has received hostile attack, and USAKIA follows DOD definitions and
classifications for KIA and DOW. KIA do not come from accidents, such as accidental
vehicle crashes, terrorism, or other "non-hostile" means. These
casualties occur from homicides while in combat, and the DOD also defines KIA
as someone who "is killed outright or who dies as a result of wounds or
other injuries before reaching a medical treatment facility."  
Someone KIA died on the battlefield whereas someone who "died of
wounds" (DOW) survived to reach a medical treatment facility after being
wounded in hostile action. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also
uses DWRIA rather than DOW for "died of wounds received in action."
However, historically militaries and historians have used the latter acronym.
(See below for various references under "Similar Terminology" and
"References" for further information on acronyms and definitions.)
For satisfactory performance under fire, the U.S. Army awards front-line
units the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) or the Combat Medical Badge (CMB).
Army support units now receive the Combat Action Badge (CAB). The Navy and
Marines award the Combat Action Ribbon (CAR). Army Air Forces received the
Air Medal for five combat missions in World War II.
KIA and DOW casualties receive the Purple Heart, a high military honor, or
the first or another Oak Leaf Cluster on it if they have already received the
award. Durinng World War II being KIA and DOW also meant the U.S. armed
forces automatically awarded you the Bronze Star, generally one-step higher
of a medal than the Purple Heart. Since that last, great war, most Medal of
Honor (MOH) recipients have been KIA.
Being KIA or DOW does not automatically mean the member of the U.S. armed
forces receives the MOH, our nation's highest military honor. However, a
March 15, 2007, Boston Globe article claimed, "New Hampshire lawmakers
are considering a plan to create a New Hampshire Medal of Honor for military
members killed in action..."  Moreover, like militaries, societies honor their KIA
and DOW as heroes.
Societies Honoring KIA and DOW
Many societies, both past and present, view those KIA as heroes, and they
generally use the terms KIA and DOW, indeed all terms for war deaths,
interchangeably. Terms such as "ultimate price" or "ultimate
sacrifice" or "the fallen" also commonly describe deaths in
battle. Socieities, including the USA, set aside days of remembrance for
their militaries and combat dead, and they build memorials and cenotaphs in
honor of their fallen.
Whereas USAKIA benefits families of the official DOD determination of KIA and
DOW casualty status, societies in general hold ceremonies for all war deaths.
The families of those who die in combat, especially their next-of-kin,
sometimes receive preferential treatment such as military honors, exemption
from taxes, and financial awards. National militaries also distinguish those
killed in action with ceremonies and awards.
Many groups including USAKIA aim to bring respect back into Memorial Day. The National Moment of Remembrance,
backed by a bipartisan group chartered by Congress, asks Americans to honor
their fallen at 3PM local time on the last Monday in May, the day the United
States of America currently honors its KIA. Memorial Day previously occurred
on May 30, and some, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of
Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), also advocate returning to this
The VFW stated in a 2002 Memorial Day Address, "Changing the date merely
to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No
doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant
observance of Memorial Day." Since 1998, Hawaii's Senator Daniel Inouye,
a veteran of World War II, has repeatedly introduced measures to return
Memorial Day to its traditional day of May 30.
Common sense indicates that the side with the most losses in military
operations loses the conflict: It's kill or be killed, a clear and present danger.
However, cases exist where the opposite happens. The Civil War provides one
example of where the victorious side had more battle dead than the losing
side. Abraham Lincoln's and the U.S. government's policy to reunite the
country provided one major reason the victors had more battle dead in the
Likewise, a smaller force can sometimes beat a larger one; Cannae (216 BC)
provides a classic example. However, the idea that when you have less enemies
to fight you have a greater chance to win provides one reason for a policy of
maiming or killing enemy forces, and another classic Greek battle, the Battle
of Thermopylae (480 BC), shows why armies maim and kill and how a smaller
army can do a lot. A recent movie, 300, depicts the famous battle
where 300 Spartans held off the Persian Empire and forces with far superior
numbers, saving Greece.
One classic speech on KIA comes from Pericles' ''Funeral Oration'' (after 490
B.C.), which appears in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War,
where Pericles honors the Athenian war dead from "one of the opening
battles of the Peloponnesian War." (See Washington State University's reader for the text of the
Plato also talks about KIA in his book, The Republic. For example, he
has his character Socrates ask Adeimantus rhetorically, "[W]hen a man
dies gloriously in war shall we not say, in the first place, that he is of
the golden race?" (Book V, Ch. 468-469) Adeimantus replying in agreement
says, "To be sure." See the
entire text of The Republic here courtesy MIT.
DOW (Died Of [Battle] Wounds): Is different than KIA because the casualty
survived to reach a medical treatment facility. Military historians use this
term more than DWRIA. e.g. See poem "Died of
Wounds" by Siegfried Sassoon or references to the term in the National Archives.
DWRIA (Died of Wounds Received in Action): Term used by NATO instead of DOW.
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* United Nations
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