Ceremony honors sacrifice made by POWs, MIAs
September 28, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A ceremony to mark National Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Recognition Day was lent extra poignancy by this week’s recovery of U.S. soldiers’ remains in North Korea.
Of the 88,000 U.S. servicemembers missing in action from all conflicts, more than 8,100 are from the Korean War, the Pentagon has said.
“We come together to honor their virtue, valor and courage,” said Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the U.N. Command in South Korea. “They endure in our hearts, yet are beyond our reach.”
During the ceremony — in which LaPorte addressed a crowd of soldiers and dignitaries — members of the U.N. Honor Guard stood at attention on Yongsan Garrison’s Knight Field.
“We are the heirs of the freedom paid for by the blood of these patriots,” LaPorte said, noting that recovery missions continue across the world.
“We do it because we are committed to all of our warriors, past and present. They did not fight for us to be forgotten.”
Earlier in the week U.S. officials announced the recovery in North Korea, of four sets of remains believed to be U.S. soldiers missing in action from the Korean War.
A recovery team near the Chosin Reservoir found two sets of remains believed to be soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division, which fought in the area in November and December 1950. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers were lost in battles during the Chosin campaign, officials said.
A second recovery team found two sets of remains in Unsan County, approximately 60 miles north of Pyongyang, military officials said. The Army’s 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions fought in the area in November 1950.
The recovery missions were made possible by negotiations between the Pentagon’s Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and the North Korean government; in July, the two sides agreed on a pair of two-month operations in 2003.
The deal only covered recovery of remains of missing Americans. The mission will wrap up in late October, when all of the recovered remains will be repatriated.
Since 1996, 26 recovery missions have been conducted in North Korea, during which 182 sets of remains believed to be those of U.S. soldiers were recovered.
“It’s obvious why it’s important for people to be at ceremonies like this,” said Robert Henault, commander of the Pacific Area chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“Until the remains of every American soldier are back with their families, we should never forget them, especially for what they did for us.”
Henault was cautiously optimistic about the fact that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first wars in which all U.S. servicemembers or their remains were accounted for. The emphasis on that was evident in the famed raid to recover Pfc. Jessica Lynch; during that mission, commandos reportedly spent hours digging with their hands to recover the remains of others taken prisoner with Lynch and her unit.
“It’s changed because of the way wars are fought,” said Henault, who spent 15 years stationed in Korea. “With all of the high-tech equipment, the soldiers don’t have to get as close.
“But it’s not completed yet. Don’t count your blessings until everything is finished.”