WASHINGTON — Veterans advocates are hoping that President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week will include discussion on returning the remains of thousands of fallen U.S. troops missing for decades.
In a letter to the White House, officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars said the topic is a critical one for the relatives of approximately 5,300 service members killed during the Korean War whose remains were never recovered.
“For the families of those who never returned, the passage of time does not heal their wounds,” the letter stated. “For them, the days became weeks, and the weeks became months, then years, and now, sadly, decades.”
U.S. and North Korean officials have previously worked on the issue in the past, forging a repatriation agreement that lasted from 1990 to 2005 and allowed the return of 229 sets of remains back to America.
VFW officials said hundreds of other sets of remains were also identified and potential sites for recovery identified during that time frame. But 13 years ago, in the face of deteriorating political relations, the effort was suspended.
The letter, also sent to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, urges the president “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.”
More than 35,000 Americans died on the Korean Peninsula during that war. Of those, 7,700 are still listed as missing in action, with 5,300 believed to be on North Korean soil.
Trump and the North Korean leader are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Singapore for a unprecedented summit between the two countries, one that Trump has said he hopes could lead to stable relations with the antagonistic North Korean leadership regime.
The pair are scheduled to meet face-to-face on Tuesday morning, with follow-up meetings between lower-ranking officials expected to take place later in the day.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.