Working to Bring Home Americans Who Died in Combat

What is the purpose of Memorial Day? One documentary brings to life how the government works to return missing service members.

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a federal holiday. What does it mean and why do we observe it?

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day for remembering those who died in service of the United States of America.

Memorial Day is a result of the Civil War and a desire to honor America’s dead soldiers. It was officially declared on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. His declaration stated:  “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

The date of Decoration Day, as the day was originally called, was selected as it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.

When is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is now the last Monday in May as a result of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This date ensured a three day weekend for federal holidays, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.

POW/MIA Accounting Office

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Office is directly related to Memorial Day as this agency works to find missing military service personnel. The agency describes its values and mission as “A world-class workforce [that] fulfills our nation’s obligation by maximizing the number of missing personnel accounted for while ensuring timely, accurate information is provided to their families.”

The agency’s mission is also reflected on its website which states:  “Please feel free to send us an inquiry about the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s efforts to account for missing Americans who are unaccounted for from past conflicts dating back to World War II.” The site also lists military personnel who have been found.

Until They Are Home and the Battle of Tarawa

The Battle of Tarawa in 1943 is largely unknown to today’s American public. This battle was part of an American invasion to capture Japanese-held territory in the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The battle was fought on November 20–23, 1943.

According to the Department of Defense, 491 of the casualties geographically associated with Betio Island and the greater Tarawa Atoll have not been found.

The role of the POW/MIA Accounting Office is highlighted in a documentary likely to be aired on or around Memorial Day and entitled: Until They are Home. The film is available on YouTube, through SnagFilms on Roku and elsewhere, and is worth watching on Memorial Day.

Here is how the movie is described:

Until They Are Home brings to light the extraordinary dedication of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team members, largely unsung heroes who, until now, have been unrecognized while working in the shadows. These young men and women returned in 2010 to the site of one of the most horrific battles of World War II in order to bring home fallen military heroes. Their efforts on the island of Tarawa have provided some closure after 69 years, recovering the remains of a few U.S. servicemen and flying those remains back to American soil. JPAC has more than a dozen teams that travel the globe on recovery missions, and Until They Are Home is the story of one of those missions.

Remembering the Meaning of Memorial Day

Today, Memorial Day is often associated with special sales on products and a day of relaxing and enjoying what is often considered the start of summer for today’s Americans. It is worth considering the real purpose of the holiday and those who have died in helping to preserve America’s freedom.

Until They are Home is a unique documentary that brings to life how the federal government works to bring home service personnel who have died in locations around the world in various wars or conflicts. It is an appropriate way to spend a little more than an hour to appreciate the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47