North Korean officers grimace Tuesday while looking at a body of a North Korean sailor during a repatriation ceremony at Panmunjom. The body was found Oct. 8 on Yongpyong Island by a South Korean fisherman.

North Korean officers grimace Tuesday while looking at a body of a North Korean sailor during a repatriation ceremony at Panmunjom. The body was found Oct. 8 on Yongpyong Island by a South Korean fisherman. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — It might be one of the eerier items dropped off at the U.S. military headquarters in Seoul: powdered bones and bone fragments no larger than paint chips wrapped in paper, along with a photo of a U.S. Marine dog tag.

The remains, allegedly recovered in China and possibly those of an American soldier from the Korean War, were dropped off Monday at Gate 17 by South Korean human rights activists, said Albert McFarland, U.S. Forces Korea mortuary affairs officer.

The package was dropped off by Do Hee-youn, the secretary general of Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees. The group was formed three years ago to aid North Korean refugees, Do said.

Do would not say Thursday how he obtained the remains or the photo of dog tag, but that he wants to help the United States. Do would not comment further on his activities in China related to North Korean refugees.

“It was all humanitarian activity,” he said. “It would be great if the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. can be strengthened by this little act,” he said, referring to the return of the remains.

The remains will be sent to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii for analysis, McFarland said.

McFarland had the photograph of the dog tag in his office. The circular dog tag read Dallas Folsom, and identified its owner as a U.S. Marine with type O blood. McFarland said he was told the original dog tag was still in China.

One problem: Folsom did not die in North Korea along with thousands of other Marines during the bitter winter of 1950, U.S. military officials said. A check of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office found that Dallas Folsom left North Korea on Dec. 12, 1950, on the USS GM Randall.

Records show Folsom, of the 5th Marine Regiment, was in South Korea two days later. He returned to the United States about a year later and was discharged as a staff sergeant in the 1960s.

Efforts to locate Folsom on Monday were unsuccessful. Military officials in the States are looking for information on whether Folsom still is alive and, if so, where he is living.

An official with the POW/Missing Personnel Office in Northern Virginia said previous reports about the remains had been brought up this summer. How the confusion arose remained unclear.

McFarland said he’s received other remains that could be U.S. soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War. In July, he sent more bone fragments given by another civic group to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. In early November, McFarland was given 18 photos — including shots of femurs and skulls — reportedly taken in China.

“Occasionally, they bring stuff to us and we take a look at it,” McFarland said.

About 8,100 servicemembers remain missing from the Korean War, military officials say. American and North Korean teams have conducted 27 recovery operations in North Korea since 1996 and found remains believed to be those of 180 servicemembers.

The United States and North Korea agreed last month in Bangkok to hold more recovery missions early next year in Unsan County, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang near Chosin Reservoir. The reservoir was the scene of heavy fighting when China entered the war in December 1950, sending U.S. troops in a hasty southern retreat.

But it’s not just Americans and South Koreans on the receiving end of remains. Tuesday, the U.N. Command returned the body of a North Korean sailor to officials at Panmunjom, the area bisected by the Koreas’ border in the Demilitarized Zone. A fisherman found the body Oct. 8 on Yongpyong Island in the Yellow Sea.

It was found with a military-style belt and what was believed to be a North Korean navy uniform. The remains were returned across the border by an honor guard after inspection by North Korean officers.

“You have to take care of soldiers with respect and dignity,” McFarland said. “I would hope they do the same thing for us.”

Sandra Jontz and Choe Song-won contributed to this story.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up