Killed in action

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“Fallen soldier in a snowy landscape”, oil painting by the former master student under academy Professor Hans Adolf Bühler and later a master artist himself, Carolus Vocke (1899–1979) from 1942.

Killed in action (abbreviated KIA, symbolically represented as ) is the term for the death of a soldier or combatant at the hands of enemy or hostile forces during battle or combat operations. Both KIA and those who died due to battle wounds are classified as "fallen". Police and other executive authorities mourn those killed in the line of duty as "fallen comrades".


Espalier of honor in the field camp of Kundus (Afghanistan) as German paratroopers of the Bundeswehr honor their fallen comrades of a reinforcement patrol in October 2008.[1]
Graves of the fallen are seen with Omaha Beach in the background at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, on 27 September 2013, at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

The honorary title "fallen" must be fundamentally distinguished from the general term “war dead”, which is used, for example, for non-combatants or civilians who have also become victims of bombing, expulsion, torture or imprisonment.


Prisoners of war who escape from captivity during a war and are captured by the enemy, for example, and are shot, are considered to have fallen according to the international laws of war.


Deceased soldiers are also considered fallen if they die directly or indirectly from their serious wounds, for example in a military hospital, genealogically marked with – †⚔ or ᛣ⚔. However, this is a matter of debate in military history, as some want to interpret the term "fallen" exclusively in the narrower sense of “in battle”.

NATO has deviated from this long-lasting tradition since the end of the 20th century; it defines "killed in action" or a "battle casualty" as a combatant who is killed outright or who dies as a result of wounds or other injuries before reaching a medical treatment facility or help from fellow comrades.


In genealogies and encyclopedias, those who were killed in action are symbolized by two diagonally crossed swords – – before the date of death, and those who died of wounds are also symbolized before the date of death by two diagonally crossed swords, but also with a small cross between the handles or a cross or death rune to the left of the upwards pointing swords. Battles are shown on maps. Battlefields (German: Wahlstatt) are also predominantly marked with – . Persons missing in action (MIA) are marked with – (⚔).


The casualty figures from battles and wars always list the dead, missing, wounded and, if necessary, prisoners. Missing people are usually among the fallen ("presumed killed in action" or PKIA), but they cannot be found or recovered because the body is, for example, behind enemy lines or was buried without marking. However, there are not uncommon cases, especially during the Second World War, where missing soldiers who were believed to be dead were picked up by the enemy and put into a POW camp. However, this was no guarantee of safety and survival, as the missing often died in captivity (through illness, starvation, torture or murder).

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  1. About five kilometers south of the German field camp, a suicide attack on a German reinforcement patrol was carried out on 20 October 2008. Two German army paratroopers were killed in the attack. Five Afghan children and the assassin are also killed. Source: Die Bundeswehr in Afghanistan