US sends recovered war remains back home

By Kim Bo-eun, Joint Press Corps

The remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War that were recovered from North Korea were sent back to the U.S., Wednesday.

The United Nations Command (UNC) and the defense ministry held a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, for 55 sets of remains that North Korea handed over last week.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo, UNC Commanding General Vincent Brooks, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Deputy Director Jon Kreitz were among the participants.

“For the warriors, this is a cherished duty, a commitment made to one another before going to battle and passed on from one generation of warriors to the next. And for all in attendance, this is a solemn reminder that our work is not complete until all have been accounted for no matter how long it takes to do so,” Brooks said during the ceremony.

The remains will be met by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, whose father was a Korean War veteran, at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. DNA tests will be conducted at the DPAA laboratory there for identification. North Korea allegedly provided only one military dog tag with the sets of remains, which may slow down the identification process by several years.

The return of the war remains was among the agreements reached at the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, June 12.

After North Korea and the U.S. held their first generals’ talks in nine years, July 15, Pyongyang handed over the remains, July 27, marking the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

The remains were flown from Wonsan in North Korea via a U.S. military transport plane to Osan Air Base, where the DPAA examined and sorted them. Transfer cases were earlier sent to North Korea on July 20.

Through the transfer of the remains to the U.S., the first of the agreements reached at the summit has been partially carried out.

The U.S. Department of State said there were no payment requests from Pyongyang and no offers were made for the repatriation. Earlier reports stated DPAA payments are not made for the remains, but for the recovery and repatriation expenses.

The U.S. reimbursed North Korea around $22 million (24.6 billion won) for 629 sets of remains received between 1990 and 2005. Among the sets, 334 have been identified, according to the DPAA.

According to the U.S. defense department, 7,700 U.S. war veterans still remain unaccounted for on the Korean Peninsula, with the remains of around 5,300 are believed to be located in North Korea.

The U.S. is seeking to discuss resuming field operations for further recoveries.

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