WASHINGTON - More than 64 years after the Korean War armistice, 7,697 American service members are still classified as missing in action, according to data maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Only World War II has more Americans who have never been found.
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Among the topics of denuclearization, war games and a pathway to peace discussed between President Trump and North Korea’s leader Tuesday, the issue of thousands of MIA troops from the Korean War unexpectedly rose to prominence at the surreal Singapore summit.
As the president revealed the much-anticipated joint statement to the crush of cameras, the fourth and final bullet point just inches from both leaders’ signatures slowly came into focus.
“The United States and theDPRK
commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” the statement read.
Approximately 5,300 of the missing Korean War troops are thought to be lost north of the demilitarized zone, in territory controlled by the reclusive regime.
New data first reported by WUSA9 also show that North Korea contributed the second-highest number of MIA remains identified last year, with 27 American troops now accounted for.
The Pacific island of Tarawa is the only overseas location that exceeded the North Korean total, with 32 sets of American remains identified.
In a June 2017 interview, Col. Fern SumpterWinbush
of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said she and Pentagon officials are prepared for the possibility of new North Korea recovery missions.
“We are postured and ready, should the opportunity arise,” Sumpter Winbush said.
“I was on the ground in South Korea, and my guys tell me, ‘We want to show you some remains that were found.’ Turned out they are American. We just returned that service member.”
Joint operations with North Korean teams returned 229 American caskets between 1996 and 2005. Efforts halted a short time later because of new nuclear threats and American security risks.
Online records show the last remains returned from North Korea were in 2007, with identifications extending into the present because of the difficulty of DNA analysis.