WASHINGTON — Members of the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command are preparing for their first mission to North Korea in seven years to search for remains of missing U.S. Korean War veterans, a defense official reported.
The mission, expected to begin this spring, will bring together U.S. and North Korean military members for the humanitarian mission, said Air Force Maj. Carie Parker, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s POW/Missing Personnel Office here.
U.S. teams will work in two areas in North Korea: Unsan County, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang, and near the Chosin/Jangjin Reservoir, where more than 2,000 soldiers and Marines are believed to be missing, Parker said.
Of approximately 83,000 Americans missing from all conflicts, 7,967 are from the Korean War, she said. Of those MIAs, 5,500 are believed to be in North Korea.
U.S. specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Command had conducted operations in North Korea for 10 years, recovering remains believed to be more than 225 servicemen since 1996. However, the United States halted those operations in 2005 due to increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
U.S. and North Korean officials agreed following three days of talks in Bangkok last October to resume the recovery missions, Parker said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs Robert J. Newberry led the U.S. negotiating team, which included representatives from DOD, the State Department, U.S. Pacific Command and United Nations Command-Korea.
Their agreement with the North Koreans includes details on logistics and other issues to ensure effective, safe operations for U.S. recovery teams operating in North Korea, Parker said.
Based on this plan, North Korean soldiers are expected to begin preparing the two sites that will serve as base camps for the operations.
A small advanced team from JPAC will then travel to North Korea to assess the sites, evaluate the conditions and determine what other preparations are needed before a full recovery team deploys there, probably in the late spring timeframe.
The recovery is considered a humanitarian mission, and North Korean military will assist with logistics, support and security, Parker said.
“They understand the importance of this mission,” she said, emphasizing that the mission is not tied to any other issues between the two countries.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command has the sole mission of achieving the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation’s past conflicts, command officials explained.
In support of that mission, the command sends teams that include forensic anthropologists, forensic archeologists and scientific directors to potential crash and burial sites around the world.
Once remains or other personal artifacts such as dogtags are repatriated to JPAC’s headquarters in Hawaii, experts at the command’s Central Identification Laboratory — the world’s largest forensic anthropology lab — use the most advanced science available to match them to a specific missing service member. Among the tools they use is mitochondrial DNA, which includes unique signatures from the maternal line and helps the JPAC staff make identifications once not considered possible.
These capabilities, plus support provided by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., has enabled JPAC to identify 94 missing service members from Vietnam, Korea and World War II since January 2011, Parker reported.
Of those, 44 were from the Korean War, including five who were accounted for this month.
One, to be buried today with full military honors in Somerton, Pa., is Army Pfc. George A. Porter. The 21-year-old Philadelphian went missing Feb. 11, 1950, when he and his Battery B, 15th Field Artillery Battalion comrades were supporting South Korean forces in a major offensive near Hoengsong, South Korea.
Porter and more than 100 men were taken prisoner when Chinese forces attacked in what has become known as the Hoengsong Massacre. He was never accounted for following the war, officials said.
Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes of human remains believed to be those of 200 and 400 U.S. servicemen. North Korean documents, turned over with some of the boxes, indicated that some of the remains were recovered in Suan County. That, officials said, was the location of the Suan Mining and Bean camps, where Porter was believed to have been held.
A metal identification tag bearing Porter’s name was included among the remains, they reported.
Scientists from the JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used forensic identification tools, circumstantial evidence and mitochondrial DNA that matched that of Porter’s sister and nephew to make an official identification. DOD announced the identification Jan. 23.
Other previously missing Korean War veterans accounted for this month were:
- Army Pfc. Frank P. Jennings. He was lost near Jeon-Gog, South Korea, on April 25, 1951, while serving with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. Jennings was accounted for on Jan. 18.
- Army Sgt. 1st Class Edris A. Viers. He was lost near Pongam-ni, South Korea, on Aug. 12, 1950, while serving with Battery A, 555th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team. Viers was accounted for on Jan. 17.
- Army Cpl. William R. Sluss. He was serving with Service Battery, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, near Kuni-ri, North Korea, when he was captured by enemy forces in late November 1950. Sluss died at POW Camp 5 in April 1951 and was accounted for on Jan. 17.
- Army Cpl. Chester J. Roper. The Battery A, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, soldier was captured by enemy forces on Dec. 1, 1950, near Somindong, North Korea, and died in early 1951 in POW Camp 5 at Pyoktong. He was accounted for on Jan. 4.
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