The remains of an American soldier killed in the 1950-53 Korean War were honored at a solemn ceremony Tuesday, with the top U.S. commander in South Korea stressing the need to continue efforts to bring home all those who remain missing.
The soldier was believed to have been a member of the 7th Infantry Division, 32nd Infantry Regiment, medical company who was killed in a 1951 battle in an area northeast of Seoul, according to the U.S.-led United Nations Command. The remains, which were found in South Korea, will be sent to a military forensics laboratory in Hawaii for more specific identification.
The casket containing the remains was draped with the blue United Nations flag to symbolize the command that oversaw the multi-nation war, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. An honor guard stood at attention on a gravel field on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul while a three-volley gun salute sounded, followed by the playing of taps. The transfer case was then loaded into a black hearse, which slowly drove off the field.
Gen. Robert Abrams, who leads U.N. Command and U.S. Forces Korea, said it is the military’s “solemn obligation” to recover troops lost in battle.
“With each repatriation we close the gap and come one step closer to fulfilling our vow to leave no one behind,” he said at the ceremony. “Let us never forget them, let us always set aside the time and space to honor them, let us never rest until they all come home.”
The remains were found by the South Korean military in October on a hill in Yanggu, near the border with North Korea. They were determined to be American after analysis by scientists at the South Korean military’s agency for remains recovery known as MAKRI.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s lab will conduct dental and DNA analysis along with other methodologies to determine the soldier’s identity.
Some 7,675 Americans remain unaccounted for since the war, with an estimated 5,300 believed to be on the North Korean side. More than 133,000 South Koreas are still missing from the conflict, according to the defense ministry.
Diplomatic engagement with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program this year has given a boost to efforts to recover the missing.
The South Korean military announced Monday that it has found nine sets of remains of war dead, including a rare, relatively intact skeleton, while sweeping for land mines inside the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula. The remains have yet to be identified, but U.S., French, South Korean and Chinese troops were involved in fierce fighting in the area during the war.
North Korea also returned 55 cases said to contain the remains of American servicemembers in July as part of an agreement between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump during their unprecedented summit in Singapore. It was the first such repatriation in more than a decade.
The United States is pressing for the return of more remains the communist state may already have as well as the resumption of joint searches in the country, which stalled amid growing tensions.
“Talks are ongoing,” Lt. Col. Irving Cross, a DPAA official, told reporters following the repatriation ceremony. “No hard dates have been set yet, but we continue to negotiate.”
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