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Killed in action

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Militaries use the term killed in action (KIA) as a casualty classification. They generally use it to describe the deaths of their own forces caused by hostile forces or by "friendly fire" during combat. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) says the KIA need not have fired his weapon but has received hostile attack. 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. However, the term "homicide" needs clarification: war itself causes death, and the definition for KIA can change with time and location. On the other hand, even those who die in rescue actions saving their comrades when not under enemy fire do not generally get defined as KIA.

The DOD 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."[1][2] Someone killed in action died on the battlefield.

Someone who survived to reach a medical treatment facility would be classified as died of [battle] wounds (DOW) by the US military, and many historians also use that term. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) uses DWRIA for died of wounds received in action.

Military Awards

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...".[2] Moreover, like militaries, societies honor their KIA and DOW as heroes.

Similar Terminology

DOW (Died Of [Battle] Wounds): Differs from KIA because they 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.


  1. The 'Lectric Law Library's Legal Lexicon On * Justifiable Homicide *. Retrieved on 2007-02-04.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nolo Press Legal Definition Homicide. Retrieved on May 25, 2009.