Last week we discussed the return of Army Maj. Stephen Uurtamo from North Korea to take his place in Arlington among the Honored Dead, albeit seventy years later than it should have happened. Major Uurtamo was far from the only one waiting for such repatriation, however. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency still lists 7,699 of our troops in that dismal category. That number may be about to shrink by triple digits because following President Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator, preparations have allegedly been made to return at leaste 100 more sets of remains and a like number of caskets have been prepared for transfer to the DMZ to retrieve them. (Associated Press)
The U.S. military said it moved 100 wooden coffins to the inter-Korean border to prepare for North Korea’s returning of the remains of American soldiers who have been missing since the 1950-53 Korean War.
U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Chad Carroll also said Saturday that 158 metal transfer cases were sent to a U.S. air base near Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and would be used to send the remains home.
North Korea agreed to return U.S. war remains during the June 12 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump. While the U.S. military preparations suggest that the repatriation of war remains could be imminent, it remains unclear when and how it would occur.
U.S. Forces Korea released a statement confirming that 100 “temporary transit cases” had been constructed locally so as to be ready on a moment’s notice and a larger number of metal caskets had been transferred to South Korea. If and when Kim releases the remains they will be handled in “a dignified manner” befitting their status.
At this point, we still don’t know if the remains are definitely being delivered or when. And assuming they are, work will be required to figure out whether they belong to American heroes or our allies and who they actually were. At that point we can begin the long process of contacting the families, making arrangements and scheduling the proper honors at Arlington.
We do have information on record and people who have been involved in the process of searching out and recovering remains in that country. As the AP points out, we had an ongoing operation for ten years, ending in 2005, during which the remains of 229 Americans were identified and returned. That ended when North Korea ramped up their nuclear program and talks between our two nations broke down.
Sadly, it seems to be a herculean task if we expect to eventually locate the thousands of Americans still missing there. But each day we seem to be getting new signals from Kim Jong-un that he’s serious about thawing relations and potentially having a team looking for remains back in his nation. Just today we learned that North Korea is cancelling their annual, month-long “Anti-U.S. Imperialism” festival. Additionally, reports from the area indicate that Kim has already begun the process of pulling some of his conventional weapons away from the border. I still don’t trust him as far as I could throw him, but perhaps he’ll pleasantly surprise us in the end.