The remains of 55 members of the U.S. Armed Forces killed during the Korean War over sixty years ago have been turned over to the U.S. Air Force by the North Korea regime.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster arrived in Wonson, North Korea early Friday morning. Each case containing the reported American remains was opened and photographed before departing North Korea. The remains were then loaded onto the aircraft before it promptly departed and returned to Osan Air Base in South Korea, where a United Nations honor guard comprised of service members from multiple nations were standing by to receive and honor the dead.
“It was a successful mission following extensive coordination,” said UNC and U.S. Forces Korea Commander General Vincent K. Brooks said in a press release. “Now, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home.”
On August 1, Brooks will oversee a full honors funeral service for the remains before they continue onto the next leg of their journey to Hawaii, where the remains will undergo processing and identity verification under the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The return of the service members remains was brought about through talks between American President Donald Trump and North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. The talks were intended as a means to reduce tensions between the two nations with the ultimate goal of denuclearizing North Korea. Although there have been some resurgences in tension between American and North Korean officials since the release of these remains may be seen as a gesture of goodwill by the North Korean government.
A White House statement released soon after the remains reached South Korea states:
The United States owes a profound debt of gratitude to those American service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home. It is a solemn obligation of the United States government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.
Today’s actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”
Although a significant step, these remains represent only a small portion of what is estimated to be thousands of remains of U.S. service members lost during the three-year Korean war that ended in an armistice. Technically speaking, the two Koreas have remained at war ever since.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry also released a statement following the return of the American remains:
This repatriation is an action based on the agreement between the leaders at the June 12 North Korea-US summit, (we) assess that this is a meaningful step that can contribute to the building of trust between the two sides. (We) hope the efforts of the involved parties to promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula will be further accelerated.
The South Korean government will continue to consult with the North so that (the remains of) our soldiers killed during the Korean War can return to their families as soon as possible through a joint search for remains.”
Featured image: United Nations Command Chaplain Army Col. Sam Lee performs a blessing of sacrifice and remembrance on the 55 cases of remains returned by North Korea at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018. | Army photo by Sgt. Quince Lanford