JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii—The U.S. has identified the remains of two service members among the 55 boxes returned by North Korea this summer, officials from the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency said Monday.
After the U.S. military informs family members, it plans to announce their names in the coming days, the officials said. Both service members died in late 1950 near the Chongchon River, in present-day North Korea, where the U.S. suffered heavy casualties, DPAA officials said.
The two were identified through DNA analysis and historical documents, and were among the easier to identify because more of their remains came back, officials said. At least one was an African-American male who was tall, young and slender when he died in 1950. His remains filled an entire box, No. 16.
“One of the reasons that we were able to identify them so quickly [was because their remains] were more complete than usual so it gave us more to look at and narrow down the identity with,” Dr. John Byrd, Laboratory Director of the DPAA told reporters Monday during a tour of the facility.
Of the 55 boxes recovered, doctors here have so far conducted sampling on 23 to determine which could yield key identifying information.
Here at the lab dedicated to identifying them, the remains sit on a large flat table, partitioned by a narrow wooden bar into sections according to the numbered box they were recovered from. On a shelf below each table are the boxes that carried the remains from the Korean Peninsula back to the lab. Each table holds no more three boxes of remains.
Remains from the first 23 boxes have either a light blue tag or a beige one, the latter indicating a strong candidate for DNA testing. The remains from the other 32 boxes have yet to be tested and have only an orange tag, indicating where on the body the bone fragments came from.
On separate tables are some of the artifacts that were among the remains: combat boots, a 1940s penny, a mess kit with three plastic spoons and a helmet.
Of the 55 boxes, 35 were from the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950. The remaining 20 are from the Battle of Unsan. Roughly 2,800 service members are still missing from areas around those two battlefields, DPAA officials said.
The North Koreans included an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper describing where the remains were found, a key identifying factor. The DPAA used that information, along with myriad DNA tests and other historical documents to positively identify the two service members.
Because lab workers here are still studying the remains, they couldn’t say how many service members were included in the 55 boxes.
The return of the remains was the product of the June 12 talks in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Weeks after receiving them, the U.S. military returned dog tags found among the remains to the family of Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, a medic who died in 1950.
The DPAA has family-reference DNA samplings for 92% of the 7,699 Korean War service members still missing.
Write to Nancy A. Youssef at firstname.lastname@example.org