Remains found near DMZ could be U.S. soldier
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Human remains discovered in South Korea near the Demilitarized Zone may be those of a U.S. soldier, a 2nd Infantry Division official said this week.
Lt. Col. Chris Bailey, 2nd ID’s assistant chief of staff, visited the site in December and passed information about the find to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
The laboratory recovers bodies of Americans, including U.S. servicemembers, lost in foreign conflicts. Bailey said evidence indicates the remains could be American but laboratory investigators would make that determination.
The 2nd ID museum confirmed U.S. units fought during the Korean War in the area where the remains were found, Bailey said, but the museum had yet to specify the units involved.
A South Korean construction worker, using a front-end bucket loader to set in concrete power poles, discovered the remains two years ago, Bailey said. The bones were larger than human remains the man had uncovered previously, leading him to believe they were American, the lieutenant colonel said. Also, nearby was a pot stamped “Made In the USA.”
“He moved the remains about seven feet and performed a ceremony. He buried them with a glass of soju and a Buddhist prayer,” said Bailey, who contacted the construction worker while investigating historic battlefields in South Korea.
“I’m a history guy. Back in November when I got over here I said, ‘Let’s see if I can go to some places, less developed, battlefields that aren’t tourist attractions, and get into fighting positions and find some old trinketry.’”
The construction worker spoke out about the remains only after watching a local television documentary that told the importance Americans place on recovering lost soldiers’ bodies.
“He was worried he might get into trouble,” said Bailey, who traveled about 18.6 miles northeast of Dongduchoen, to the edge of a Republic of Korea (ROK) Army security zone near a heavily mined DMZ section, to examine where the remains were found.
The ROK Army maintains control points along roads approaching the DMZ so reaching the site was a bureaucratic nightmare, Bailey indicated. On his first attempt, he got only as far as the ROK Army’s Typhoon observation post.
“We met an officer there who directed us to request access from his division’s staff. It took a month to get through to them,” he said.
Once all of the red tape was cleared, the ROK Army was exceptionally supportive, Bailey said.
“We drove into the DMZ area and went to the site with the construction guy. Because of where it was, just below the crest of a hill, next to a minefield, he remembered it.
“We have treated this like a potential find site,” Bailey said. “The remains are pretty much protected. They are on the edge of a South Korean military enclave.”
Bailey photographed and surveyed the area, then sent his information to the Central Identification Laboratory. CILHI dispatches recovery teams to suspected sites to conduct excavations and search for remains. Remains thought to be American then are flown to Hawaii for forensic identification. The laboratory tries to match the remains to MIA records using DNA, dental, medical, military records and any other means for identification.
Finally, CILHI is responsible for locating the next of kin and returning the remains to family members. Since 1973, CILHI officials have said, the laboratory has identified more than 1,089 servicemembers. Pentagon officials say some 8,000 U.S. soldiers remain missing from the Korean War.
Bailey is familiar with the process: He supervised the recovery of human remains for CILHI in Thailand in 1992, when he was with 45th Corps Support Group.
“These guys have the ability to look at a site and remains and say whether they are Asian, Caucasian, or Negroid. They have a record of who is not home yet. Whenever they get a potential find they ask who was here from different units and do their own science project,” he said.