WASHINGTON — With the remains of dozens of Korean War troops set to return to the United States on Wednesday, military advocates are urging family members of missing service members to enroll in the Defense Department’s DNA database to help with identification of the fallen heroes.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency officials have said they don’t have DNA files for about 9 percent of the nearly 7,700 U.S. troops missing in action from the Korean War.

As new remains are turned over from North Korea in coming years, advocates worry that some may not be able to be identified without additional help from military families.

“Ensuring a family reference sample is on file is so important,” VFW National Commander Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence said in a statement last week. “Identifications can be made through strong circumstantial evidence, but nothing says proof-positive better than an actual DNA match.”

The group in recent days has reached out to its membership to urge every family member of missing Korean War and Cold War troops — “even distant relatives” — to contact defense officials about donating a reference sample, a process that typically involves little more than a cotton cheek swab.

The department’s military service casualty offices handle that work, and are available via toll-free numbers:

  • Army: (800) 892-2490
  • Marine Corps: (800) 847-1597
  • Navy: (800) 443-9298
  • Air Force: (800) 531-5501
  • State: (202) 485-6106

On July 27, North Korean officials delivered 55 cases of remains believed to be fallen Korean War combatants to U.S. officials as part of an agreement between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The cases were transported to Osan Air Base in South Korea and will be returned to American soil in a formal repatriation ceremony in Hawaii on Wednesday, Aug. 1. Vice President Mike Pence and other government dignitaries will be on hand for the event.

More than 35,000 Americans died on the Korean Peninsula during that war. Of those, 7,700 are still listed as missing in action, with 5,300 believed to be on North Korean soil.

Lawrence said his membership has been encouraged by both the peace talks between the countries’ leaders and the moves made to return the troops remains.

“The potential for peace on the peninsula in the macro sense has to be on denuclearizing North Korea,” he said. “But to the families of the missing, their macro view of the world begins at home, where for more than six decades they have been asking questions that have mostly gone unanswered.”

More information on Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identification procedures is available on the agency’s web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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