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Seoul brings home Korean War remains after seven decades

At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, South Korean forensic experts cover with a South Korean flag the remains of Korean War soldiers, set to return home from the United States where they had been sent from North Korea. (Ministry of National Defense)
At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, South Korean forensic experts cover with a South Korean flag the remains of Korean War soldiers, set to return home from the United States where they had been sent from North Korea. (Ministry of National Defense)
The remains of 147 South Korean soldiers who perished during the Korean War returned home on Wednesday to a solemn welcome. A special ceremony for their homecoming is scheduled Thursday evening as part of events to mark the outbreak of the war on June 25, 1950.

The remains, kept for nearly two years at the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, were among those North Korea returned to the US in early 1990s and after the 2018 summit between Washington and Pyongyang in Singapore.

Through two joint forensic reviews, Seoul and Washington identified the 147 sets as those of South Koreans. South Korean authorities have found DNA matches for seven of them, with the rest currently undergoing the identification process, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

At the ceremony held Tuesday in Hawaii, Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said the repatriation had made this year’s 70th anniversary of the breakout of the inter-Korean conflict more special.

“We honor them today as the embodiment of the ideals of our nations, those of our allies who fought as brothers in arms to deter aggression, defend sovereignty and protect individual human rights,” he said.

The commander described the “ironclad alliance” between Seoul and Washington as the “linchpin of peace and security” and one of the most successful of its kind in modern history. In response, South Korea’s vice defense minister, Park Jae-min, said he was grateful for the opportunity to repatriate the remains.

“South Korea and the United States will continue to cooperate to honor those who have made enduring sacrifices to their countries,” he said, adding the remains of six American soldiers killed in the Korean War would be returned home during this week’s ceremony in Seoul.

The latest repatriation marks the fourth of its kind, with the joint forensic experts group from Seoul and Washington having identified and sent 92 sets of remains back to Korea, bringing the total number of repatriated soldiers to 239.

Since 2000, the South Korean government has been extensively excavating battle sites and recently expanded the project to cover Arrowhead Ridge, a site of fierce battles that now falls inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone. An estimated 135,000 soldiers remain missing.

Thursday’s welcoming ceremony is scheduled at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, southeast of Seoul, ahead of the war anniversary events. The 22 heads of the states that took part in the war, including US President Donald Trump, sent congratulatory messages, which will be read during the homecoming ceremony.

South Korea will award the Military Orders of Merit to 14 war veterans and their families, with medals of appreciation given to roughly 84,000 living war veterans.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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