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One of the outcomes of the Singapore Summit on June 12, 2018, was North Korea’s release on July 27 of 55 remains of US soldiers.

On July 31, the New Yorker reported that this is not the first time North Korea has released soldiers’ remains from the Korean War. Also note that the US has funded these recovery operations (emphases mine):

The United States has paid North Korea twenty-two million dollars to fund recovery operations. Between 1990 and 1994, Pyongyang handed over two hundred and eight boxes of remains. Between 1996 and 2005, another two hundred and twenty sets of remains were recovered. It’s a tiny fraction of the missing.

The latest remains will be analysed, a painstaking task:

On July 27th, North Korea turned over fifty-five remains of U.S. soldiers. There were no pallbearers; there were no caskets. There was no need. The remains—mostly fragments of bones—were in medium-sized boxes draped in blue-and-white U.N. flags. On August 1st, they are scheduled to be flown to a military lab in Hawaii that specializes in identifying remains. It’s a process that can take years, even decades. Vice-President Mike Pence, the son of a Korean War veteran, is scheduled to attend the repatriation.

The New Yorker‘s reporter, Robin Wright, interviewed 85-year-old Noreen Loper, the sister of Air Force airman James O’Meara, who wrote his family that he had one more air mission to complete before returning home early in 1953. However, no one ever saw him again after that mission.

Robin Wright also interviewed an Air Force trainee, Jerry Abrahamson, 85, who was on O’Meara’s flight. The crew of 14 had completed their mission in a B-29 and were half an hour from base when their plane was attacked by enemy fire on January 29, 1953:

O’Meara jumped right before Abrahamson. “That was the last time I saw him,” Abrahamson told me. “We were still at twenty thousand feet. It took a long time for us to come down. We got scattered.” Abrahamson and three other Americans were captured, separately, by the North Koreans. At each transfer site, often after gruelling marches, Abrahamson asked other prisoners of war about O’Meara. No one had seen him. Abrahamson ended up in a harsh Chinese-run P.O.W. camp near the Yalu River. Of those four men, one died in captivity and another was repatriated to the United States three months later, during Operation Little Switch. Abrahamson and one other were freed during Operation Big Switch, after the Korean War armistice, seven months later. Abrahamson, now eighty-five, is the last crew member still alive.

At one point, 149 American POWs were released by China to the United States in 1953. They were ill and/or seriously injured. This short news reel shows the relief the parents and friends of New Yorker George Hart felt when he, being one of these men, rang home to say he would be with his family soon:

The O’Meara family was less fortunate, and the New Yorker interview explains their anxiety. Not having heard any news about James, they finally decided to assume that he was dead. A special memorial ceremony for those who had died during the war took place at Arlington Cemetery in 2006, at which point the O’Mearas decided to place a gravestone for him there:

“The boys said we should have something official while a few of us were still living,” his eighty-five-year-old sister, Noreen Loper, told me. They arranged for a simple white cross with O’Meara’s name on it. They had no body to bury in 2006, however. They still don’t.

Even today, Noreen Loper yearns for certainty:

“It’s been a long, long time now,” Loper told me. “For most people, Korea is the forgotten war. For me, there’s never been any closure. These days, I keep thinking, Am I going to find out in my lifetime? I’ve got to know what happened to him, even if it’s only some bones.”

She said that she could not understand why any country would want to hold on to POWs’ remains. I cannot help but agree with her. What purpose does it serve?

I hope that her brother’s remains are among the 55.

The Daily Mail has more information on the return of these remains.

President Trump expressed his gratitude to Kim Jong Un for fulfilling his promise:

Donald Trump thanked North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Friday for ‘fulfilling a promise’ to return the remains of American servicemen who died during the Korean War.

‘At this moment a plane is carrying the remains of some great fallen heroes from America back,’ he said following a press announcement about the domestic economy, calling the matter one ‘of profound importance.’

‘I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word. We have many others coming, but I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me,’ Trump declared.

‘And I’m sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search.’

A US Air Force C-17 aircraft brought the remains back after a memorial ceremony at the Osan Air Base in South Korea:

The ceremony saw U.S. servicemen and a military honor guard line up on the tarmac of the air base to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue United Nations flags.

A total of 36,000 American soldiers were killed in the devastating Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and 7,700 bodies are listed missing in the war. A total of 5,300 are believed to still be in North Korea

As July 27 was the date the armistice — not an official treaty — was signed in 1953, North Korea held commemorative ceremonies of their own. Kim Jong Un visited the graves of Chinese People’s Volunteers who died in the war.

All being well, the Korean War will finally come to an end in the foreseeable future.

Until then, it is essential to remember that China still pulls North Korea’s strings.

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