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The remains returned by North Korea are "likely American" — but they could take decades to identify

Only a single dog-tag was handed over.
Getty Images

Kim Jong Un has followed through on at least one promise he made to U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June — handing over the remains of U.S. soldiers who died during the Korean War.

After initial testing, John Byrd, director of analysis for the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), said Wednesday the boxes, handed to South Korea last week, do hold human remains from the 1950-1953 Korean War and are likely American.


However, experts warn identifying the remains, contained in 55 boxes, could take decades.

The remains were loaded onto a C-17 transport plane Wednesday at Osan air base in South Korea en route to Hawaii for a full forensic examination.

“The remains are consistent with remains that we have recovered in North Korea through our own recovery efforts in the past," Byrd said. “There is no reason to doubt that they do relate to Korean War losses.”

Only a single dog-tag accompanied the remains. That soldier’s family have been informed, but it is unclear if his remains are among those returned.

More than 36,000 American soldiers died during the conflict. Some 7,700 U.S. servicemen and women remain listed as missing from the war — 5,300 of those lost in North Korea.

Scientists at the DPAA will now begin the arduous task of trying to identify the fallen.

The first task will be to establish that the remains are definitely human; scientists will then count up the bones and come up with a minimum number of individuals that are being repatriated.

The remains will be identified by DNA, but that technique relies on the families of the deceased submitting samples to the agency.

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The investigators will also use any evidence found with the remains for clues, such as military uniforms and personal items, such as wedding rings.

The time it takes to identify each soldier will differ depending on what remains are within each box, but experts say that the identification process can take anywhere from a couple of days to several decades.

Vice President Mike Pence has been dispatched from the White House to received the remains when they land at Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Wednesday.

Cover image: U.N. honor guards carry a coffin containing the remains of a U.S. soldier who was killed in the Korean War during a ceremony at Osan Air Base on August 1, 2018 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)