Veterans group urges Trump to push North Korea for recovery of Korean War-era remains
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 11, 2018
WASHINGTON — One nationwide veterans organization hopes when President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, he’ll push for the recovery of remains of American servicemembers killed during the Korean War.
Remains of an estimated 5,300 missing American servicemembers are in North Korea and potentially recoverable. Because of an intensely strained relationship between the two countries, there’s been no successful effort to collect the remains since 2005.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday, urging him to include a potential repatriation agreement in his discussions with Kim. The highly anticipated summit between the two leaders was set to take place Tuesday in Singapore.
“As the leader of the free world, we urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that those who paid the ultimate price for freedom during the Korean War are finally returned home to their families,” wrote Keith Harman, commander in chief of the VFW.
The letter was also sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
It was uncertain Monday whether the repatriation issue would be part of Trump’s agenda. The White House referred questions Monday to the National Security Council, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The VFW said the return of missing servicemembers was of “paramount importance” to the organization.
“For the families of those who never returned, the passage of time does not heal their wounds,” Harman wrote. “For them, the days became weeks, and the weeks became months, then years, and now, sadly, decades.”
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, there are still 7,702 American servicemembers unaccounted for from the Korean War, which took place on the Korean peninsula from 1950 to 1953.
Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered 229 sets of American remains from North Korea between 1990 and 2005. The United States was allowed to conduct 33 investigative and recovery operations in the country before former President George W. Bush’s administration called off the search, claiming the safety of American participants was not guaranteed.
The VFW is hoping Tuesday’s summit, which Trump said could be the start of improved relations between the United States and North Korea, could restart those efforts.
South Korea is also aiming to use the burgeoning goodwill with the North to ask for permission to recover its war dead.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last week that he hoped North Korea would allow teams to retrieve remains from the Demilitarized Zone. South Korea still has more than 120,000 unaccounted for troops from the Korean War.
“When the South-North relations improve, we will push first for the recovery of remains in the Demilitarized Zone,” Moon said. “We will also be able to retrieve the remains of U.S. and other foreign soldiers who participated in the war.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Kim Gamel contributed to this story.