Remains of Americans killed in Korean War return home after 55 years

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The remains of dozens of presumed US war dead returned to Hawaii on Wednesday after they were handed over by North Korea.

The US military believes the bones are those of American servicemen and potentially servicemen from other United Nations member countries who fought alongside the US on behalf of South Korea during the Korean war.

US vice president Mike Pence spoke at a ceremony before the flag-draped containers carrying the remains were taken off planes in sets of four.

“Whosoever emerges from these aircraft today begins a new season of hope for the families of our missing fallen,” he said. “Hope that those who are lost will yet be found. Hope that after so many years of questions, they will have closure.”

US Korea War Remains
Vice president Mike Pence, left, at a ceremony marking the arrival of the remains (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Some of the invited guests wiped tears from their eyes during the procession.

North Korea handed over the remains last week and a US military plane made a rare trip into North Korea to retrieve the 55 cases.

About 7,700 US soldiers are listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War, and about 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.

Hanwell Kaakimaka’s uncle, John Kaakimaka, is among those who never came home.

US Korea War Remains Pence
Guests showed their emotions at a ceremony marking the arrival of the remains (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

His uncle, who was from Honolulu, was a corporal in the 31st Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division. He went missing on or about December 2 1950.

Mr Kaakimaka said the story he heard from his father was that his uncle was injured and was being brought back from the front when Chinese troops overran the area and attacked the convoy.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis said last week that the return of the 55 boxes was a positive step, but not a guarantee that the bones were American.

A defence official said on Tuesday that it would probably take months, if not years, to fully determine individual identities from the remains.

US Korea War Remains
Military members carry transfer cases from a military transport plane (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Efforts to recover remains in North Korea have been fraught with political and other obstacles since the war’s end. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea unilaterally handed over 208 caskets to the US, which turned out to contain remains of far more than 208 individuals, although forensics specialists thus far have established 181 identities.

A series of US-North Korean recovery efforts, termed “joint field activities”, between 1996 and 2005 yielded 229 caskets of remains, of which 153 have been identified, according to the Pentagon.

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