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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
55 sets of MIA/POW remains repatriated from North Korea last week were on their way to Hawaii for further forensic examination on Wednesday, following a ceremony at Osan Air Base.
Speaking ahead of the event marking the return of the remains, officials from the U.S. military, including the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and the State Department provided additional details of the examination process so far.
Forensic scientist and laboratory director for the DPAA John Byrd told media that one dog tag of a U.S. soldier from the Korean War was included in the remains received and that the family of this individual has been identified.
He cautioned, however, that it has not yet been determined if the remains of that individual were included among those handed over.
Byrd said that other U.S. military equipment such as boots and helmets were among the items received inside the 55 boxes.
“There is no reason to doubt that they do relate to Korean War losses,” he said, adding that officials believe the “remains are what North Korea said they were.”
He also confirmed that, following a two-day preliminary review by DPAA experts in Seoul, no animal bones were included, suggesting scientific examinations had been conducted by the North Korean side prior to last Friday’s transfer.
When asked how much information was provided regarding the remains received, Byrd said location information was given for each set of remains, allowing experts in Hawaii to use data of known battle locations and dates to help narrow down the possible individuals.
Hundreds of guests, some military and diplomatic representatives of UN member nations who fought in the Korean War under the United Nations Command (UNC), attended the event at Osan Air Base, surrounding 55 full sized metal caskets each draped in UN flags.
It was a large and highly coordinated event, with extensive military presence, a band playing on a raised platform above the seated audience, and two large screens on either end of the hangar, the caskets in a diamond pattern filling most of the area.
Flags of the nations who fought alongside ROK and U.S. troops in the Korean War were also presented next to large wreaths at the front of the hangar beneath a giant UN flag.
Ambassadors and representatives of the UN nations were each invited up to place wreaths before the caskets.
After the initial honors, the caskets were then loaded into 24 vans on their way to the two Hercules cargo jets.
The ceremony was sponsored by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense and the UNC, and co-hosted by ROK defense minister Song Young-moo and UNC Commanding General Vincent K. Brooks.
In a speech given before the wreath laying, General Brooks spoke of the solemn nature of the event and the sacrifices of UNC forces during the war.
General Brooks also said the U.S. was “encouraged by recent cooperation with North Korea on this humanitarian effort,” adding he was reminded “once again of our solemn obligation to bring everyone of them, the missing, the prisoner of war, back home to their countries and their families.”
Highlighting the State Department’s representation at the event in the form of Ambassador Harry Harris and consul general for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul Angela Kerwin, spokesperson Heather Nauert said during a press briefing Tuesday that the U.S. was pleased with the North’s repatriation efforts and cited it as proof of Kim Jong Un’s commitment to the negotiating process.
She also sought to dispel questions over potential U.S. payments for the remains, saying “North Korea did not ask for any money nor did we offer any money for the remains of those fallen Americans.”
The U.S. had in the past compensated North Korea for both unilateral transfers and their contributions to joint field activities.
Vice President Mike Pence will attend a ceremony in Hawaii receiving the remains, Nauert added.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News