Commander of the United Nations Command Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks sent Korean War troop remains home to the United States on Wednesday after a dignified transfer ceremony at Osan Air Base in South Korea that lasted more than two hours.
Brooks, who is also the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, rendered the final salute to the fallen as the command transported 55 sets of remains to two C-17 military aircraft for their final flight home.
Speaking at the ceremony, he said:
Encouraged by recent cooperation with North Korea on this humanitarian effort that enabled the transfer of 55 sets of remains on the 27 of July last Friday, we have gathered as the successors of United Nations Command at the Republic of Korea and as the beneficiaries of the noble sacrifices of those — for who a short while longer will remain nameless yet in our presence, to render our final salutes to them, to lay wreaths in the names of our countries who fought side by side and who died side by side and to be reminded once again of our solemn obligation to bring every one of them the missing, the prisoner of war back home to their countries and their families.
A U.S. Army chaplain delivered a prayer in both Korean and English.
“May God bless the souls of those who laid before us and provide comfort to those who yet await the return of their beloved and missing warrior,” he said.
Each set of remains, in a coffin draped with a United Nations flag, was carried by six service members to a vehicle and loaded onto the C-17s and flown to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham, where they will be identified at a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lab.
They were greeted in Hawaii by Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, and other senior U.S. officials.
North Korea handed over the remains to the command on Friday as part of an agreement reached in June with President Donald Trump during the Singapore Summit.
The return of 55 sets is seen as only a first step. There are 9,569 United Nations Command personnel who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, including 7,699 Americans. Some 5,300 are believed to be missing inside North Korea.
Veterans groups have praised the returns.
“This is a huge step in the right direction that we hope will finally bring peace to the peninsula and closure to American families who have been waiting more than six decades for their loved ones to return home from their war,” Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence said in a statement.
“The VFW is grateful to the president for acting on our recommendation and to the North Korean leader for following through on his part of the summit agreement,” Lawrence said.
American Veterans (AMVETS) National Commander Marion Polk said, “We are tremendously grateful to everyone who has worked so faithfully for so many years to locate and repatriate the remains of American service members who have fallen in battle all over the world.”
“And although today we are especially grateful to know the remains of these Americans killed in North Korea will finally be returning home, we are also very mindful of the approximately 5,300 still missing in Korea and the solemn debt our nation owes each and every one of them as well,” Polk said.
Brooks, in his send-off, spoke of the U.S. military’s promise to leave no one behind.
“For the warrior, this is a cherished duty, a commitment made to one another before going into battle, and passed on from one generation of warriors to the next,” he said.
“Our work is not complete until all have been accounted for no matter how long it takes to do so.”
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, and lasted until an armistice was reached on July 27, 1953.