Once lost, now found: DPRK returns remains of 55 MIA service members

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ilyana A. Escalona
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

On July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement, signed by the United Nations Command, the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteer Army, implemented a complete cessation of hostilities of the Korean War.

The conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 178,000 UNC service members leaving approximately 7,800 men behind enemy lines unable to return home, devastating families longing for closure.

For 65 years, the UNC has remained committed to enforcing the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which includes the return of fallen service members a reality that came true on July 27, 2018, when the UNC repatriated 55 cases of remains from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster from Joint-Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii, flew to Wonson, North Korea, received the remains, and returned to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, where thousands of military members, civilians, families and veterans welcomed the fallen.

“It was a successful mission following extensive coordination,” said UNC and United States Force Korea Commander, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks. “Now, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home.”

Brooks hosted a full honors ceremony Aug. 1, 2018, to commemorate the return of the fallen service members which included a wreath laying, a last post presentation, a moment of silence, a 21 gun salute and a missing man flyover.

“Today’s repatriation ceremony represents good news to those nations and to those families that had fallen soldiers and service members in the Korean War and we are proud to just be a part of it as the United Nations Command,” said Col. Chad Carroll, USFK chief of public affairs.

After the ceremony, pallbearers loaded the cases onto a C-17 headed to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam where the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will attempt to identify the remains and reunite them with their families.

“Ultimately, those of us that have taken part in this operation are really hoping for some closure for the families that are involved who may have had fallen loved ones,” said Carroll. “Since this event has occurred, we have been contacted by several families that have expressed their appreciation and hope that in some of these transit cases could be remains of their particular loved one.  We are optimistic that we can give them closure.”

As U.S. and North Korea have agreed to resume the search and return of remains of U.S. service members that went missing during the Korean War (1950-1953), DPAA officials remain hopeful they’ll be able to provide closure for many more families in the future.

Brooks closed the ceremony by offering one last piece of comfort, “May God bless the souls of those who lay before us, and provide comfort to those who yet await the return of their beloved and missing warriors.”