North Korea To Help Identify, Return Remains Of U.S. Troops From Korean War

Jun 12, 2018
Originally published on June 12, 2018 11:01 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's zoom in now on that last commitment that President Trump and Chairman Kim made in their joint statement, to recover and repatriate the remains of war dead. About 7,700 Americans who fought in the Korean War are still not accounted for. Their families have lobbied the White House intensely to get North Korea's help, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: For all the Korea news, the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington was sparsely attended today. A Girl Scout Troop stood among the long shadows of 19 larger-than-life statues of American GIs. A park volunteer told them about the war over the din of sirens and airplanes taking off from Reagan National Airport. Korea has been called the forgotten war but not by the families of those who fought in it.

BRYANT LONG: My stepfather, he fought in the Korean War. My wife here, Daniella, her father was actually in the Korean War, too

LAWRENCE: Bryant Long and his wife are here from Michigan, and they've also just learned that President Trump and Kim Jong Un had signed an agreement to recover POW MIA remains.

DANIELLA: I do believe that everyone should be able to put their family at rest.

LONG: Just to bring some closure for the families.

LAWRENCE: That closure has been the goal of veterans groups, says Keith Harman, who leads the VFW. He sent a letter to President Trump just last week highlighting the issue.

KEITH HARMAN: We're just really grateful that President Trump brought this issue out. I think he listened to our message.

LAWRENCE: Harman says in the past, North Korea allowed the U.S. to recover hundreds of American remains. Much of that was during the previous round of nuclear talks between 1996 and 2005 when that process collapsed. On a recent fact-finding mission to Seoul, Harman says he was told North Korea is holding 200 more sets of remains but it was going to take some bargaining to get them back.

HARMAN: While we fully understand that the, you know, that the peace talks were about the denuclearization, with that being said, you know, all of our members have served in combat. We understand the importance of bringing our war dead home. We wanted this to be a part of it as well.

LAWRENCE: In his press conference after the meeting with Kim Jong Un, President Trump acknowledged the lobbying.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I must have had just countless calls and letters and tweets, anything you can do, they want the remains of their sons back, they want the remains of their fathers and mothers and all of the people that got caught in that really brutal war.

LAWRENCE: Trump said this issue had even been brought to his attention during the presidential campaign. But he implied that he raised it with Kim at the last moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I asked for it today, and we got it. That was a very last minute - the remains will be coming back. They are going to start that process immediately.

LAWRENCE: Trump added that Kim Jong Un understood the issue and agreed to it, quote, "so quickly and so nice." Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.