A U.N. honor guard carries a casket containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after arriving from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018. The U.N. Command says the 55 cases of war remains retrieved from North Korea will be honored at a ceremony next Wednesday at a base in South Korea.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with Pentagon reporters Friday and took many questions about the return of possible war remains from North Korea. He spoke on the it implies for military families that have never had closure, and the way the U.S. will verify the remains are true.
Q: We’ve been working for years and years to get the remains back, what does it mean for you personally?
Mattis: “What it indicates for people. We have families, any time they got the telegram, have never had closure. They’ve never, you know, gone out together our bodies returned. So what we’re seeing here’s a chance to give those families closure. To make certain that we continue to look for all those remaining.”
“By the way, you noticed it absolutely was a U.N. blue flag on every one of the boxes. Many of the U.N. nations with us also provide missing. We don’t know who is in those boxes. As we discover it, they will be returned. They could head to Australia, they have got missing. France has missing. The Americans, there’s a whole lot of us. So this can be a global effort to create closure for all those families.”
Q: Two years ago, North Korean officials offered to repatriate 200 remains. So, why only 55 caskets?
Mattis: “We can’t go back in and verify what are the number they had was. We know whatever they said. But for people, we’ll simply say that is obviously a gesture of carrying forward whatever they opted for in Singapore, and that we get it as a result. We also look at it as the first step up a restarted process. So we do wish to explore additional efforts to get others home, perhaps have our own teams go in.”
Q: Have the North Koreans provided any evidence that the remains they provided to the U.S. service members, and not, say, North Korean remains?
“The reason those remains aren’t on their way back to the United States today, is, actually first gonna be reviewed initially there in Korea. and that we’ll search for any anomalies where they’re not what we think they may be. And then the forensics will begin when we land them in Hawaii, the place that the laboratory is. But we now have no indications that there’s anything amiss. But we don’t know, we can’t confirm it somehow. That is why we proceed through all the forensics.”
Q: You said earlier today there’s a possibility U.S. teams may eventually go into North Korea to look for additional remains?
Mattis: “That will be exercised. It certainly is something we’re interested in exploring with the North Koreans.”
Q: Does that mean that for the forseeable future there will be no joint wargames with South Korea?
Mattis: “No, it’s unrelated.”
Q: What’s the next step?
Mattis: “We’ll have to sort it out. Obviously we want to continue this sort of humanitarian effort.”