Families of Korean War missing to provide DNA

Matt Saintsing
July 27, 2018 - 2:49 pm

Photo By Matt Saintsing

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A meaningful first step. Hopeful, but with a watchful eye. Joy for the families of the fallen. 

These are the reactions from veterans and advocates on the first tangible outcome of President Donald Trump's efforts to bring home American war dead from the Korean peninsula, 65 years to the day after combat ended. 

“This is a huge step in the right direction that we hope will finally bring peace to the peninsula and closure to American families who have been waiting more than six decades for their loved ones to return home from their war,” said VFW national commander Vincent B.J. Lawrence. 

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster, a cargo aircraft, carried the remains that landed at the U.S. Osan Air Base, just south of the Seoul on Friday. 

Joe Anello, a U.S. Army Korean War veteran and former prisoner of war in Korea said he was “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to this latest gesture from Pyongyang. 

“I’m very happy they’re returning them if they are in fact our men. I know it will mean a lot to the families,” he said. “And that means a lot to me because, as you know, I buried friends there.”

But Anello remains skeptical, however, given that North Korea has been using American remains as “bait.” “They use them whenever they think they can get some kind of advantage, or get some kind of favor with us for negotiations,” he said. 

The remains will be carefully transferred to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency office in Hawaii, where forensic experts will begin the tedious task of identifying them. North Korea has, in the past, the mixed U.S. remains with non-human carcasses. 

Read here about the respectful transfer of  the 55 caskets from North Korea to the U.S.

To ensure the remains could be positively identified as American, the VFW is urging families of Korean War missing to provide a DNA sample to the Defense Department. 

“Identifications can be made through strong circumstantial evidence, but nothing says proof-positive better than an actual DNA match,” said Lawrence. 

According to the VFW, DNA reference samples from families only account for 91 percent of Korean War mission. And, they’re calling on family members to submit a reference sample, “in the hope that the next identification announcement is their long-lost soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine.” 

Relatives can contact a military service casualty officer for information on how to provide a sample at the following phone numbers:

  •  U.S. Army: (800) 892-2490
  •  U.S. Marine Corps: (800) 847-1597
  •  U.S. Navy: (800) 443-9298
  •  U.S. Air Force: (800) 531-5501

“We owe it to their families and we owe to their battle buddies,” added Lawrence. 

It’s going to be a long process, says Ann Mills-Griffiths, chairman, and CEO of the National League of POW/MIA. 

“Concrete answers bring an end to uncertainty, and the uncertainty about a missing loved one is what motivates all the questions and effort after all these years,” said Mills-Griffiths, whose brother is still missing from Vietnam.

“If you can get identifiable remains and have a funeral here in the United States then that brings finality, it’s a tremendous relief."

Listen here to our interview with Korean War POW Joe Anello.

Phil Briggs contributed to this report.

Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com.