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Korean War remains return home after seven decades

At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, South Korea’s forensic experts cover with its national flag the box of remains of Korean War soldiers, set to return home from the United States where they had been sent from North Korea. (Yonhap)
At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, South Korea’s forensic experts cover with its national flag the box of remains of Korean War soldiers, set to return home from the United States where they had been sent from North Korea. (Yonhap)

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 brought to the US after excavation work in North Korea from 1990-1994, and following the first summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018.

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 country,” 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 earlier identified and sent 92 sets of remains back to Korea, bringing the total number of repatriated soldiers to 239.

The South Korean government since 2000 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 to be held at the 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 that are to be read aloud during the homecoming ceremony.

The Military Orders of Merit are to be awarded to 14 war veterans and their families, with medals of appreciation given to the roughly 84,000 living war veterans.

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