The United States today returned the remains of 64 fallen South Korean soldiers to its ally in the largest repatriation ever from the Hawaii-based lab that identifies missing service members from past wars.
Sixty-three flag-draped wooden boxes were placed in perfect rows on a Republic of Korea Air Force C-130 aircraft, and the 64th box was ceremoniously transferred from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to the United Nations to South Korea.
The blue UN covering was replaced with South Korea’s flag and Vice Minister of Defense Suh Choo-suk bowed to the unidentified casualty from the 1950-53 Korean War before it was carefully carried onto the green and gray camouflage cargo plane.
“I am honored and humbled by the reason we are gathered here this morning for this repatriation ceremony — to pay our respects to the 64 fallen South Korean soldiers who today begin their journey back home,” said Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, the accounting agency’s deputy director.
Two months ago, 55 sets of presumed American remains turned over by North Korea were received at the same hangar at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the start of identification.
The remains that were returned to South Korea today were part of recoveries made by the accounting agency in North Korea between 1996 and 2005 — when the missions were stopped as the result of North Korean nuclear provocations.
During 33 joint field activities into North Korea, the agency recovered more than 220 sets of remains. With the identifications being finalized for that group, 64 individuals were determined to be South Korean soldiers who fought alongside U.S. troops, officials said.
“We fought with them in Korea. In fact, in my company, there were several South Korean soldiers attached to us. We fought together. So it’s very important for me to be here to pay my respects,” Honolulu resident Stan Fujii, 88, who was a 21-year-old Army machine gunner in the war, said after the ceremony.