Remains Sent from North Korea Not a First for U.S.

A DoD Agency Pores Over Previously Returned Remains, Works to ID Them

By Katie Lange
Department of Defense

The past week has been momentous for anyone holding out hope of finding the remains of loved ones who died during the Korean War and never returned home.

In a July 27 repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, 55 boxes of possible remains were transferred from North Korea. Wednesday morning, those remains left the air base to return to U.S. soil. They arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for an honorable carry ceremony Wednesday evening.

The remains of what are believed to be U.S. service members arrive at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, after being transferred from North Korea. Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen

Rewatch the South Korea repatriation | Watch Wednesday’s Hawaii ceremony

Nearly 7,700 American service members were listed as unaccounted-for after the conflict ended in 1953. While there’s no guarantee the remains in the returning boxes are those of Americans who fought in the war, other transfers in the past have helped many families waiting to hear about their loved ones find much-needed closure.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency examines all the returned remains and is responsible for identifying them – a process that can take years. But it’s working. Here are some facts they gave us:

Transfer cases containing the remains of what are believed to be U.S. service members lost in the Korean War line the bay of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. The ceremony marked the arrival of 55 transfer cases recently repatriated from North Korea. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall

Between 1990 and 1994, the DPAA received 208 boxes of remains from North Korea. The boxes were believed to have more than 400 servicemen in them.

The DPAA was also able to conduct on-the-ground recoveries in North Korea between 1996 and 2005, which led to the identification of 229 men.

Researchers are still working to identify the various remains, but from those missions between 1990 and 2005, the DPAA has made 335 identifications so far.

In 2007, the remains of seven more individuals were turned over to the U.S. by North Korea. The DPAA has been able to identify six of them.

Officials load the remains for return to the U.S. at Osan Air Force Base, Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forces Korea

Identification efforts also continue in Hawaii at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific – aka, the Punchbowl – where about 866 service members are buried as unknowns. Since 1999, the DPAA has exhumed 197 graves there and made 105 positive identifications.

READ MORE: 64 Years Later, Korean War Vet Finally Comes Home

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Remains Sent from North Korea Not a First for U.S.