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Master Sgt. Keith Hansen, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Band-Asia at Yokota Air Base, plays taps during a repatriation ceremony at the base Tuesday night.
Master Sgt. Keith Hansen, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Band-Asia at Yokota Air Base, plays taps during a repatriation ceremony at the base Tuesday night. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Master Sgt. Keith Hansen, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Band-Asia at Yokota Air Base, plays taps during a repatriation ceremony at the base Tuesday night.
Master Sgt. Keith Hansen, a member of the Pacific Air Forces Band-Asia at Yokota Air Base, plays taps during a repatriation ceremony at the base Tuesday night. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)
Members of the U.N. Command Honor Guard from Yongsan, South Korea, carry a casket holding what are believed to be remains of a missing GI from the Korean War.
Members of the U.N. Command Honor Guard from Yongsan, South Korea, carry a casket holding what are believed to be remains of a missing GI from the Korean War. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Eight sets of bones believed to be from U.S. soldiers missing in action in the Korean War received a hero’s welcome at a United Nations Command repatriation ceremony here Tuesday night.

Under a steady drizzle, the remains from North Korea were carried individually in aluminum caskets from a C-130 cargo plane into Hangar 15; more than 300 servicemembers, retirees, civilians and other community members paid their final respects to the war dead.

“Yokota is the closest United Nations Command base to North Korea,” said 1st Lt. Tom Wenz, Yokota spokesman. “We’re recognizing the fact that they’re finally back on UNC soil.”

The bones were to be flown to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, on Wednesday morning for a second ceremony, Yokota officials said. Army forensic scientists then will attempt to identify the U.S. soldiers.

Tuesday’s ceremony was the first for Korean war dead at Yokota this year. Army Col. Tom Schneider, commander of United Nations Command-Rear at Camp Zama, Japan, said world events delayed U.S.-North Korean negotiations for recovery operations this year. Negotiations usually take place late in the year for the following year, Schneider said.

When those talks are timely and the weather cooperates, a full year usually yields five digs and five repatriation ceremonies, he said, adding, “This year, we had two separate searches but only one ceremony.”

The bones repatriated at Yokota were found during digs earlier this year at two locations: near the Chosin Reservoir and about 60 miles north of Pyongyang in Unsan County.

The remains from the Chosin Reservoir are believed to be those of U.S. Army soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division who fought against Chinese forces from November to December 1950, according to a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command news release. About 1,100 Americans are unaccounted for from Chosin campaign battles.

Unsan County was the site of fighting between communist forces and the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions in November 1950.

Of the 88,000 U.S. servicemembers missing in action from all conflicts, more than 8,100 are from the Korean War. Officials at Tuesday’s ceremony did not have with them statistics on how many sets of remains from the Korean War have been identified since recovery operations began in 1996.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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