Recovery Mission to Begin This Spring in North Korea

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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)