North Korea delivered 55 boxes of bones, supposedly of U.S. soldiers, to U.S. defense officials, but provided only one dog tag to help identify the remains.
A U.S. defense official said Tuesday that the North Koreans provided no other means to help identify the remains and that it could take anywhere from months to years to determine the individuals represented by the remains. Specialists have not yet determined whether the remains are even those of American soldiers, and the possibility exists that they could be soldiers of other nationalities who fought in the Korean War. (RELATED: North Korea Expected To Return US War Dead On 65th Anniversary Of The End Of Korean War Hostilities)
“We don’t know who’s in those boxes,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, according to The Associated Press.
“They could go to Australia. They have missing, France has missing, Americans have. There’s a whole lot of us. So, this is an international effort to bring closure for those families,” he added.
North Korean officials handed the boxes over Friday at Wonsan, North Korea as part of the fulfillment of Kim Jong Un’s agreement with President Donald Trump, made during the Singapore Summit on June 12, to repatriate the remains of U.S. soldiers. The remains were then flown to Osan air base where they were catalogued. U.S. officials will fly the remains to Hawaii on Wednesday after they undergo a repatriation ceremony. A Defense Department laboratory will then begin in-depth forensic analysis to determine the individual identities of the remains.
The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 of the approximately 7,700 U.S. MIAs of the Korean War remain on North Korean soil, with many of them buried in shallow graves where they fell.
Richard Downes, son of Air Force Lt. Hal Downes who was declared missing in action in the Korean war, told AP that he hopes the return of the 55 boxes will pave the way for more remains to be repatriated.
“These 55 can set the stage for more to come,” Downes said.
Downes is the executive director of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.