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South Korea, US Repatriate Fallen Soldiers 70 Years Later at Pearl Harbor Ceremony

Repatriation Ceremony with South Korean President Pearl Harbor Korean War
Staff Sgt. Michael ONeal/Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agenc
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His Excellency MOON Jae-in, president, Republic of Korea, delivers remarks during a joint repatriation ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Sept. 22, 2021. The purpose of the ceremony was to transfer the remains and commemorate the service of 68 fallen South Koreans, and believed to be six U.S. service members who fought during the Korean War. The remains were analyzed jointly by the DPAA laboratory and scientists with the Republic of Korea's Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification (MAKRI). (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael O'Neal)

HONOLULU — South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Hawaiʻi this week as the remains of 68 Korean and six presumed U.S. service members were repatriated during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

South Korean soldiers who died in the Korean War had been in the possession of the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency until Wednesday, when they were placed on a Korean government jet to be returned home.

South Korea also returned the remains of the presumed U.S. service members to the accounting agency, which recovers and identifies those missing in past conflicts. More than 7,500 Americans are unaccounted for from the Korean War.

“American and Korean heroes are finally returning home to their families after a 70-year-long wait,” said Moon, who laid a wreath at Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

DPAA Hosts Joint Repatriation Ceremony with ROK Pearl Harbor South Korea
Staff Sgt. Michael ONeal/Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agenc
U.S. and Republic of Korea service members render honors during a joint repatriation ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Sept. 22, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael O'Neal)

He had been at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where he said he “proposed that the relevant parties gather together and proclaim an end to the Korean War, creating a new chapter of reconciliation and cooperation.”

South and North Korea signed a 1953 armistice that halted three years of war but never led to a formal declaration of peace.

The 68 remains came to the accounting agency from North and South Korea. One was from a disinterment at the cemetery.

U.S. Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, deputy director for operations with the accounting agency, said more than 200 sets of remains in the Hawaiʻi lab were from South Korea. Most were returned to South Korea in 2018 and 2020, he said.

“So today’s ceremony, likely the last of such magnitude, signifies the remaining 68 Republic of Korea servicemen in the care of” the United States, Banaji said.

The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, said at the event at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that the “Korean War brought our two nations side by side to fight for and defend the values embodied in the ideals of freedom.”

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