Defense Department officials have identified 25 more missing service members from the cases of remains turned over by North Korean officials last year, a major advance for dozens of families who have waited decades for closure in the deaths of their loved ones.
The identifications were first announced by Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday afternoon and later confirmed by officials at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during their annual briefing to families of the Korean War, held in Washington.
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the news “A promise kept from the agreement between (North Korean) Chairman Kim (Jong Un) and President Donald Trump … to return all of our fallen heroes.”
DPAA officials said specific identifications will be made public in coming weeks, after family members have received formal notification from the individual services. Most of the service members identified are from the Army.
Prior to this week, DPAA officials had announced the identification of only seven fallen troops from the 55 cases of remains turned over by North Korea last August. That diplomatic breakthrough came a few weeks after Trump met with the North Korean leader in Singapore a few weeks earlier, and was seen as hope of improved relations between the countries.
But a second summit between the heads of state in February failed to produce similar agreements, and the DPAA announced last spring that it would cease planning efforts on the issue due to a lack of cooperation from North Korean officials.
DPAA Director Kelly McKeague told family members at this week’s briefing that his agency is ready to resume recovery efforts within months if the North Korean government agrees. Among the 550 family members at the briefing were several related to the newly identified missing service members, agency officials said.
More than 82,000 Americans who fought in wars overseas are classified as missing in action. Of those, about half are believed to have been lost at sea.
More than 5,000 of those are believed to have died on the Korean Peninsula during the war there. From 1990 to 2005, 229 fallen troops were identified and returned home in joint operations between the two countries. But diplomatic fights between the countries’ leadership ended that progress 12 years ago.
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.