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DoD Recovery Team Uncovers Remains in North Korea

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 28, 1998 – The second team of DoD investigators to enter North Korea this year recovered three sets of remains believed to be those of American servicemen missing since the Korean War.

Following the team's 24-day search in North Korea, the remains were repatriated July 24 through the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom. They were flown to Hawaii for analysis at the Central Identification Laboratory.

This was to have been the third of five joint recovery missions to North Korea this year under a December 1997 agreement between the U.S. and North Korea, said Robert Jones, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/missing personnel affairs. The second team's entry was delayed about a month, however, because the North Koreans balked at repatriating the remains found during the first mission, he said.

Jones said U.S. officials met with the North Koreans to discuss their intentions and to ensure they'd adhere to the original agreement. "They didn't offer any explanation for the delay," he said, "but we're continuing with this humanitarian commitment, and they've agreed to abide by the agreement throughout this year."

The North Koreans also agreed to two archival research programs this year. This year's first recovery mission began April 21 in Kujiang County, North Korea, with U.S. team members from the Hawaii lab and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, Jones said.

The Americans and their North Korean counterparts excavated a site where the Communist Chinese army and U.S. 25th Infantry Division fought a fierce battle in November 1950, he noted. About 50 Americans were killed or captured.

After excavating for about 25 days, the team had recovered two sets of remains believed to be those of U.S. servicemen. The North Koreans then delayed repatriation for about a week.

"The Koreans chose to break that agreement and link this humanitarian effort to other geopolitical endeavors they're pursuing," Jones said. The first team returned home. Jones postponed the second operation while the two countries discussed matters.

"They [North Koreans] … were not responsive to our inquiry," he said. "I wrote their ambassador to the U.N., who resides in New York, a letter telling him we need to resolve the issue. The mission was in jeopardy.”

Jones said before recent agreements the United States had attempted since 1992 to start direct dialogues with North Korea to begin a recovery process of those missing from the Korean War.

"The North Koreans had turned over remains to us in the early '90s, but unfortunately, most of them were not accompanied by identification media -- dog tags, identification cards, or anything that would point toward who the serviceman might be," Jones said. "We also found some of the remains were commingled," he said.

He said there was also difficulty with North Korea's failure to maintain chain of custody of the remains from the point of recovery until they were turned over to the United States.

A U.S. archival research team led by the DoD's POW/Missing Personnel Office spent a week in late May in North Korea to research archives in two military museums in Pyongyang, Jones noted.

"Last year, in a similar visit, researchers brought back documents from the Fatherland Liberation Museum relating to American POWs held during the Korean War," he said. "These documents are still being analyzed and are turned over to family members if they pertain to a named serviceman."

U.S. investigative and recovery teams include experts in forensic anthropology, mortuary affairs, explosive ordnance disposal, logistics, photography, communications and medical support. Two team members remain in Pyongyang to maintain communications between an excavation site and the United States.

About 8,100 Americans remain missing from the Korean War, Jones noted. Since joint U.S.-North Korea recovery operations began in 1996, 11 sets of remains have been recovered. So far, the remains of Army Cpl. Lawrence LeBoeuf, of Metairie, La., have been identified and returned to his family for burial with military honors.

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