State of the Facts
The federal government established Memorial Day in 1971 to honor those who died during military service.
Over 405,000 service members died in World War II, the most of any US war since the 20th century.
Hostile deaths, also defined as deaths resulting from combat, account for almost 75% of all deaths in all wars and military operations post-WWI. Non-hostile deaths, or non-combat deaths resulting from accidents or injuries, accounted for the most deaths in all wars before World War II, according to the Defense Casualty Analysis System.
Almost 13 million soldiers were drafted for World War I and World War II, according to the Selective Service System. Draftees accounted for 60% of the service members in each world war.1 The last draft was conducted in 1973 for the Vietnam War. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that over 8.7 million service members served during the Vietnam War and 20% were draftees. The Persian Gulf War was the first major US military action overseas to use an all-volunteer force.
President George W. Bush announced a “global war on terrorism” following the September 11 attacks. This eventually led to five separate military operations focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the surrounding regions.
Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel are the two military operations in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom started in 2001 to fight terrorism and the widespread insurgency and ended in 2014. Operation Freedom's Sentinel started in 2014 to train and assist the Afghanistan military. It continues today with a smaller troop presence.
Ninety six percent of all service member deaths in Afghanistan occurred in Operation Enduring Freedom. Almost 80% of deaths were hostile with almost three of five deaths attributed to service members killed in action, according to the Defense Casualty Analysis System. The remaining hostile deaths were primarily from deaths due to wounds with a small number attributed to terrorist actions.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve were the three military operations in Iraq. Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003 with the objective of removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power under the claim the country developed and stockpiled Weapons of Mass Destruction. This operation ended in 2010. Operation New Dawn took over with a smaller force. The objective was to maintain stability in the country by advising Iraqi security forces. Operation Inherent Resolve began in 2014 to support the Iraqi Security Force and is still ongoing.
Operation Iraqi Freedom accounted for the most deaths in Iraq. More than 60% of deaths were service members killed in action.
White service members account for more than four out of five deaths for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Black service members account for 10% or less of all deaths for the same conflicts. Demographic data for all service members was not available.
Service members younger than 30 accounted for more than three-quarters of all deaths in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Two-thirds of all deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom were service members younger than 30.
See the military and defense page or more details on American service members.
1Women service members are excluded from this data since all draftees were men.
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