OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- A rare, solemn silence lingers over a normally bustling flightline. The stillness of the runway temporarily fades as a vehicle slowly bypasses spectators rendering salutes and clutching their hands over their hearts, awaiting troops returning from combat.
Coming to a halt, the automobile unveils six service members, but instead of walking out to fanfare for a heroes’ welcome, these members were transported by pallbearers in a United Nations Command flag wrapped casket and recognized for their ultimate sacrifice: dying from the Korean War in the wake of the conflict’s 70th Anniversary.
Formally called a repatriation ceremony, U.S. Army Col. David Bowlus, UNC chaplain, commemorated their valor before they were loaded onto a Boeing 747.
“Almighty God, we thank you for the distinct honor to return our fallen comrades to their final resting place,” said Bowlus. “Although separated from their countrymen, they were never forgotten. Although once lost, they are now found. In this solemn moment, we thank you for their noble sacrifice. God grant to these your servants eternal rest, and may their return bring peace to all who have prayed and waited in hope for this day.”
“May their valor and commitment become a seed that would nurture us and future generations to love even unto laying down our lives so others may be free,” Bowlus added. “Our fallen comrades honored their country in life, and we, on behalf of our grateful nations, honor them now.”
The UNC has remained committed to enforcing the 1953 Armistice agreement, which includes the return of fallen service members. The conflict resulted in the deaths of more than 178,000 UNC service members leaving approximately 7,700 men behind enemy lines unable to return home, devastating families longing for closure.
Today, these six names are unknown, but after transport to a forensic lab at Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is hopeful to identify these individuals to provide closure for family and friends.