The Accidental Journalist, Part 20 — Departure Ceremony for Korean War Remains

The Story Behind the Story


Some of the more sobering and somber articles I wrote on a Korean War Commemorative event or Korean War-related topic were those I wrote about the ceremonies for the repatriation of remains thought to be those of U.S. service members killed during the conflict.


Since the end of the conflict in 1953 there have been ongoing searches and recovery operations for remains in both South and North Korea. Remains found in South Korea are repatriated from Seoul to a lab in Hawaii whereas remains recovered in North Korea are repatriated to Japan and then onto the Hawaii for identification.


In the spring of 2001 I covered the first of three Departure Ceremonies for the repatriation of remains.


It was a very somber ceremony, especially the funeral march by the Eighth Army Band played as the caskets were taken to a hearse for transportation to a military plane. It reminded me of the state funerals I had seen on television, most specifically the funeral for John F. Kennedy.


These were straight news stories with very little time to explore the human side of them. After attending the event that was held at U.S. military base in Seoul, I had to  rush back to the newspaper office and write the story—usually with just enough time to spare for the early afternoon deadline.


Still, I tried to add some human touches to the story because it was a very moving ceremony and it really meant a lot to me to honor that as of yet unidentified service member. At the same time, when I heard that funeral march being played and watched the caskets slowly be carried by a military honor guard, it really got to me and choked me up when I thought that someone’s husband, father, brother, or son was finally going home.

The first article was written in May 2001/the second one in July 2001


Departure Ceremony for UNC Remains Held



YONGSAN GARRISON, Seoul—A United Nations Command Honor Guard Departure Ceremony was held yesterday to mark the recovery of two sets of Korean War- era remains at Knight Field on Yongsan Army Garrison. The ceremony was by hosted by Maj. Gen. Michael M. Dunn, Deputy Chief of Staff, UNC/USFK and U.S. member to the UNC Military Armistice Commission.


“We gather here today to remember those who fought in what sometimes has been referred to as the forgotten war,” said Maj. Gen. Dunn. “But let me assure you the sacrifices of those brave soldiers, sailors airmen, and marines are not forgotten.”


The remains are believed to be those of American or other UNC servicemen who fought as part of the UNC to defend the Republic of Korea and have been listed as “killed in action/body not recovered” since the Korean War. One set of remains was found near the battle site known as Arrowhead Hill, while the other was recovered near Horseshoe Ridge.


Fifty years ago, on April 23-24, the Marines of 1st Regiment, 1st Battalion fought a “horrific battle with the Chinese Communist forces near the village of Shindong-ni.” After the battle four individuals remained unaccounted for.


Maj. Gen. Dunn said, “Today we once again honor their memory—whether they still rest in Korea and remain achingly unaccounted for, or whether they returned home decades ago.”


In his speech, he also made note of the drizzle that had been falling during this solemn ceremony.


“The Bible says that rain is heaven’s tears. That being so, it is notable that God’s tears are falling on us today,” said Dunn. “But we should see these as tears of joy. First, because 50 years ago God called home these two soldiers. Second, because the remains of these soldiers are also finally going home.”


From March 11-30, a joint investigative team from the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, and (CILHI) conducted remains recovery operations on the two battlefields. With help from the Ministry of National Defense, the 5th and 27th ROK Infantry Division, and numerous on-peninsula agencies, the team excavated and removed battlefield debris in association with possible human remains. These remains will now begin their journey back to Hawaii for forensic analysis and final disposition. Recovered remains suspected to be of American military personnel, certain American civilian personnel, and certain allied personnel are taken to the laboratory.


In his closing remarks, Maj. Gen. Dunn remembered the ultimate sacrifice of these two fallen heroes by evoking the sentiment of John F. Kennedy. “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”



48 Years after Armistice, One Soldier Finally Goes Home


YONGSAN GARRISON—Yesterday, 48 years after the signing of the Korean War Armistice, one UNC service member was finally going home.


The United Nations Command Honor Guard held a departure ceremony on Knight Field for the remains of a U.S. service member who had been listed as  “killed in action/body not recovered” since the Korean War.


“It is fitting on the 48th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, that this service member is finally going home,” remarked Brig. Gen. Timothy E. Donovan, Assistant Chief of Staff, United Nations Command who hosted the ceremony. “May we never forget these sacrifices made on behalf of freedom.”


Similarly, Lt. Gen. Kim Myung-hwan, Commandant of the ROK Marine Corps said that “we must not forget those still missing.”


The remains were discovered by a local farmer who saw part of a boot sticking out of the mud on a beach west of Osan last Sunday. He notified local police authorities, who then notified the ROK Army which went in and secured the area until the 8th Army’s mortuary people could go out and properly recover the remains.


According to Maj. Tim Callahan, Operations Chief for the UNC Military Armistice Commission, the remains were found with some personal effects, including dog tags. It is believed, based on those effects that the service member was killed in the final months of the war.


“We know that he was either a pilot or an aircrew member,” said Callahan, “but it’s very important to withhold the identity of the service member for the benefit of families back home until we get positive scientific identification.”


Following the departure ceremony the remains were flown to Hawaii for positive identification at the Central Identification Laboratory.


“The search for remains is a big mission of the Military Armistice Commission,” added Callahan, “and today’s ceremony was part of the continuing mission we have.”




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