The Courts of the Missing
May 11, 2018
Most people take comfort in being able to visit the graves of their departed loved ones, or at least to know where their remains end up. But after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor and the four-year war in the Pacific, as well as other conflicts that came after, thousands of families still don’t have the closure that comes with having a gravesite to visit. What many of these families do have, instead, are the Courts of the Missing, a centerpiece of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located inside Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu.
Recognizing the importance of honoring these lost service members, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) conceived the idea of a monument dedicated to the vast number of missing sailors, soldiers, and Marines. As part of the Honolulu Memorial in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the ABMC ordered the construction of the Courts of the Missing. The original Courts of the Missing were dedicated to the 18,096 World War II servicemen lost in the Pacific war. In addition, 8,210 missing from the Korean War were also honored.
In 1966, the ABMC dedicated the Courts of the Missing, making them an official monument to honor the missing service members of the Pacific and Korean Wars.
In 1980, the ABMC approved the addition of 2,504 names of those who were lost during the Vietnam War. The Courts of the Missing were expanded in 2012 to add two pavilions: one that houses an orientation map of the memorial and the other featuring mosaic battle maps of the Vietnam War. Another feature of the Courts of the Missing is a chapel and mosaic galleries depicting maps of the combat in the Pacific and Korea. Descriptions of achievements during the War in the Pacific and Korea War are included to better detail the service of these missing servicemen.
Should a missing service member’s remains later be identified and returned to their family, a rosette is placed next to their name in the Court. In recent years, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has been using DNA matching to identify remains of men killed aboard the USS Oklahoma whose remains were long buried in group graves at the cemetery marked “Unknown.”
Over the years, the stone panels of the Courts of the Missing have deteriorated due to the tropical weather. The ABMC is currently in the process of replacing the panels with new ones made from a more durable Portuguese limestone.
Many Pearl Harbor tours include a drive through the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Out of respect for the thousands of service members for whom this is their final resting place, tour vehicles aren’t allowed by the Veterans Administration to stop within the cemetery.