WASHINGTON -- The alliance between the United States and South Korea is a special bond built on mutual trust, shared values and an enduring friendship, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.
Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson spoke during a June 23 repatriation ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in which the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency turned over the remains of 147 South Korean service members who died in the Korean War in the largest repatriation of South Korean soldiers.
The effort to return the remains is a part of the DPAA Korean War Identification Project, and it includes remains unilaterally turned over by North Korea from 1990 to 1994 and in 2018. It is the largest transfer of remains between the two countries since the 2018 repatriation ceremony, when DPAA returned 64 remains to South Korea.
"We are here today because of the unprecedented coordination and the close friendship between our two nations," the admiral said. The DPAA's mission and sacred endeavor of accounting for our nation’s missing heroes continues with remarkable success, he added.
The remains were analyzed by scientists and staff from the DPAA laboratory and the South Korea's Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification during a joint forensic review conducted in the days prior to the ceremony. Working cooperatively and thoroughly, they concluded that the 147 individual remains are of South Korean origin, and seven of the remains have been individually identified and are pending final testing once they are returned to South Korea.
"Our missing and unaccounted-for service members are entitled to one certainty: They will never be forgotten," Davidson said." We owe these honored dead and their families a profound debt of gratitude."
The admiral said he hopes for more repatriation ceremonies for both nations to bring a sense of relief to families and to allow grateful nations to render proper honors to our fallen heroes. "We shall never forget them," he said.
President Moon Jae-in will welcome the remains home in an official ceremony today in South Korea's capital of Seoul that coincides with the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.
During the Korean War, South Koreans and Americans fought side by side to defend the values embodied in the established rules-based international order, which was then in its infancy, Davidson said.
"For more than six decades, our ironclad alliance has been the linchpin of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific — certainly one of the most successful of its kind in modern history," he said.
South Korea, formally known as the Republic of Korea, and U.S. service members on the Korean Peninsula and across the region continue to carry on the mission to which these individuals dedicated their last breath, he added.
"Together, our two nations will continue to honor their legacy through our unwavering strength, our resolve and our dedication to preserving peace on the peninsula and throughout the Indo-Pacific region," Davidson said.
Park Jae-min, South Korea's vice defense minister, noted that this year marks the 67th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty, which formed the South Korea-United States alliance in 1953.
"It has been seven decades since the Republic of Korea and the United States have fought hand-in-hand as allies," he said. "The fact that we can now put a name to the 147 remains returning to their loved ones is truly overwhelming."
The two countries will continue their mutual cooperation to pursue the fulfillment of a sacred duty to remember the sacrifices of the fallen warriors and to bring every last one home, Park said.
Both officials signed an acknowledgement letter to officially document the transfer and repatriation of remains from the United States to South Korea. The box carrying the soldiers' remains was boarded onto a South Korean armed forces aircraft bound for Seoul.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leah Ferrante of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency contributed to this report.)