A U.S. Air Force plane carrying the possible remains of American soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War left North Korea’s port city of Wonsan and arrived in Osan Air Base in South Korea on Friday morning.
The military plane flew exactly 65 years after the signing of an armistice that ended hostilities in the conflict in a sign of diplomatic detente between the United States and North Korea.
“We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in a statement. “Today’s actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”
The statement added that a formal repatriation ceremony would be held at Osan Air Base on 1 August.
President Donald Trump thanked the North Korean leader in a tweet Friday morning, saying, “The Remains of American Servicemen will soon be leaving North Korea and heading to the United States! After so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un.”
The return of the remains fulfills one promise made last month at the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim when North Korea agreed to the “immediate repatriation” of the remains of U.S. soldiers already identified.
After the plane landed in South Korea, 55 wooden boxes containing the soldiers’ remains were unloaded from the military aircraft. The repatriation was marked by a few dozen South Korean, U.S., Thai and Filipino military personnel from the U.N. Command, along with hundreds of their families who formed honor guards at the South Korean Osan Air Base.
“It’s time to bring them home,” said retired Air Force veteran Ernest Lee of Cherry Hill, N.J.
However, the process of repatriating the U.S. soldiers’ remains from North Korea has taken longer than many had expected, and questions remain over how many Pyongyang still holds.