The nation’s oldest and largest war veterans service organization has lauded President Donald Trump for securing a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to repatriate the remains of approximately 5,300 American soldiers.
Keith Harman, the head of Veterans of Foreign Wars, urged Trump ahead of the June 12 summit to bring up the issue with Kim Jong Un on behalf of the many families who have waited for decades to learn of their loved ones’ fates.
Trump and Kim signed a joint statement on June 12, with one of the points stating that North Korea would allow the United States to repatriate the remains of the American soldiers who perished in the 1950–1953 Korean War. Harman hailed Trump and thanked Kim after learning about the deal.
“We must have hope that this agreement will finally bring peace to the peninsula and help bring closure to thousands of families of missing American servicemen from the Korean War,” Harman said in a statement. “The VFW salutes President Trump for bringing this issue to the table, and we thank the North Korean leader for agreeing to it. Now the hard work to bring the initiative to fruition begins.”
More than 35,000 Americans died on the Korean Peninsula and 7,702 are still missing in action, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (pdf). Of those, an estimated 5,300 are believed to be in North Korea.
In a press conference following his meeting with Kim, Trump said that the process to bring back the remains will begin immediately.
“I must have had just countless calls and letters and tweets, anything you can do—they want the remains of their sons back,” Trump said.
“They want the remains of their fathers, and mothers, and all of the people that got caught into that really brutal war, which took place, to a large extent, in North Korea.
“I asked for it today and we got it. That was a very last-minute request. The remains will be coming back. They will start that process immediately.”
Trump said of Kim, “He agreed to that so quickly and so nice. It was really a very nice thing, and he understands it.”
The joint statement signed by the two leaders stated that “the United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”
In a prior concession, Pyongyang released three American detainees from prison. They returned to the United States alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump greeted the group in person during a late night arrival in the United States in May.
A prior repatriation agreement between the United States and Korea was terminated in 2005 due to political tensions. The deal lasted for 15 years, allowing the United States to recover 229 sets of remains and identify scores of others.
“For the families of those who never returned, the passage of time does not heal their wounds,” Harman wrote in a June 6 letter urging Trump to bring up the issue with Kim. “For them, the days became weeks, and the weeks became months, then years, and now, sadly, decades.
“As the leader of the free world, we urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that those who paid the ultimate price for freedom during the Korean War are finally returned home to their families.”
A group of 16 nations, headed by the United States, fought alongside South Korea against North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. Nearly a million soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed during the conflict.
Technically, the two Koreas are still at war. The bloody battles finished with a stalemate and a 1953 armistice that resulted in the division of Korea into the North and South.
The recovery of war fighters’ remains is the top priority of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Approximately 120,000 South Korean troops remain missing from the brutal three-year conflict.
“When the South–North relations improve, we will push for the recovery of the remains in the Demilitarized Zone,” Moon said on June 6, which is South Korea’s memorial day. “We will also be able to retrieve the remains of U.S. and other foreign soldiers who participated in the war.”
Moon was among scores of world leaders to congratulate Trump on the deal with Kim. “President Moon said President Trump has achieved a great success in the North Korea–U.S. summit, laying the foundation for peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the entire world,” Moon’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement following a telephone conversation between the two leaders.