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

The United Nations Command Honor Guard prepares to transfer caskets of remains onto waiting C-17 Globemaster IIIs as members of the 36th Fighter Squadron perform a missing man flyover at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

The United Nations Command Honor Guard prepares to transfer caskets of remains onto waiting C-17 Globemaster IIIs as members of the 36th Fighter Squadron perform a missing man flyover at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. Two C-17s left Osan AB for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, where members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will attempt to identify the remains of the fallen heroes. The UNC repatriated 55 cases of remains from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)

Honor guard from NATO countries participate in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

Honor guard from NATO countries participate in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. The United Nations Command in Korea remains committed to enforcing the 1953 UN Armistice Agreement and overseeing activities such as this repatriation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Raughton)

Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz, Deputy Director of Operations for Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency, left, Harry Harris, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, center left, General Vincent Brooks, United States Forces Korea commander, center right, and Song Young-moo, South Korean Minister of Defense, pay their respects during a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

Rear Admiral Jon Kreitz, Deputy Director of Operations for Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency, left, Harry Harris, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, center left, General Vincent Brooks, United States Forces Korea commander, center right, and Song Young-moo, South Korean Minister of Defense, pay their respects during a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. The United Nations Command in Korea remains committed to enforcing the 1953 UN Armistice Agreement and overseeing activities such as this repatriation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Raughton)

The United Nations Command Honor Guard transfers caskets of remains onto waiting C-17 Globemaster IIIs at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

The United Nations Command Honor Guard transfers caskets of remains onto waiting C-17 Globemaster IIIs at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. Ninety-one service members from various UN countries made up the honor guard who individually loaded each dignified transfer case. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kelsey Tucker)

U.S. Army Honor Guard members prepare to perform a 21 Gun Salute at a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

U.S. Army Honor Guard members prepare to perform a 21 Gun Salute at a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. The United Nations Command repatriated 55 cases of remains from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ilyana A. Escalona)

Members of the United Nations Command Honor Guard perform during a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018.

Members of the United Nations Command Honor Guard perform during a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Aug. 1, 2018. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, UNC commander, hosted a repatriation ceremony to honor the return of 55 cases of remains from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ilyana A. Escalona)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --

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.”