As the two Koreas announced an August date for a reunion of families separated for more than 60 years since the Korean War, American officials said they are beginning the process to bring home the remains of U.S. soldiers listed as missing since the fighting stopped in 1953.
The military moved “100 wooden temporary transit cases” to the Joint Security Area near the South Korean border on Saturday “so that we are ready to receive remains and be able to transport them in a dignified manner,” the U.N. Command’s public affairs office said, according to Stars and Stripes.
It was also sending 158 metal temporary transfer cases that could be used to hoid remains, the command said.
The U.S. military sent 100 wooden coffins to the border with North Korea on Saturday to prepare for return of war dead remains https://t.co/tS5Y8WHv97
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) June 23, 2018
“We’re anticipating around 200 to 250 remains and so that is what we’re preparing for. It could happen any second and we are getting ready for that,” NBC reported a spokesman it did not name as saying.
The spokesman said remains will be moved in a “dignified manner.”
“We owe a profound debt of gratitude to U.S. service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home,” said Army Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesman for United States Forces Korea, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Recovery of American remains was agreed to during the June 12 summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump.
More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the Korean War. When the armistice was declared to halt the fighting, 7,702 Americans had been reported missing in action, with about 5,300 missing in North Korea, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said.
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The last return of U.S. remains came in 2007 when then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson brought home six sets of remains.
Recovery of remains is the beginning of a long process. After they are brought back from North Korea, remains will go to a forensics lab in Hawaii for identification before next of kin can be notified.
America’s preparation to bring home its dead came as North and South Korea said 100 people from each side will meet in August in the first family reunions since 2015, CNN reported.
South Korea figures show that since 1988, more than 130,000 people registered for a lottery that decides which families are chosen for a reunion. Since then, about 75,000 have died, it said.
“The South and North will hold further working-level talks and Red Cross talks at an agreed time, to discuss humanitarian issues including the reunion of separated families,” the South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement.
Since 1985, 19 similar reunions have taken place, The New York Times reported.
As a further indication of the symbolic thawing of relations between the two Koreas, both nations announced Monday their athletes will form one team under one flag at the Asian Games in Indonesia, which are held later this year.
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