Forensic lab in Hawaii begins long process to identify Korean War remains
A government forensic lab on Oahu now holds the remains of what are believed to be American soldiers killed in the Korean war.
Inside a government forensic lab on Oahu are the remains of what are believed to be American soldiers killed in the Korean war. The long process of identifying the remains is now underway, less than a week after touching down in on U.S. soil in Hawaii.
Vice President Mike Pence greeted the 55 flag-draped cases of remains during an honorable ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, last Wednesday. Soon after the cases were flown in, they were transferred to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lab for further analysis.
"Unilateral turnover is what we call them. It's something that happens on a regular basis. Usually doesn't happen in such high numbers, and usually doesn't happen with North Korea," Supervisory forensic anthropologist and laboratory manager with DPAA, Dr. Denise To said.
The last time the U.S. received remains from North Korea was in 2007, but the number was nowhere near the dozens received, last week. Dr. To adds that it could take anywhere from a couple months to years to fully determine each individual's identity.
"Some of the boxes did come with some material evidence. We're still sorting that out. Some of them didn't have anything and some more than others," she said. "From the little bit that I've seen they're in various states of preservation.. some are more whole than others and some are just a few pieces."
The remains are protected in clear plastic bags numbered one to 55, and lay lined up on tables inside the state-of-the-art DPAA laboratory. Placed next to some of the remains, are material evidence, including boots and a helmet, that were collected from some of the cases.
"We did have one particular box that was turned over with an identification tag," Dr. To added.
Dr. To said that based on an initial examination, the remains are "consistent" with being Americans.
"From that particular review we were able to determine that everything right now in terms of what it looks like, what the taphonomy looks like, the preservation of the remains, the amount of remains, the size of the remains. They're consistent with what we would expect coming out of war time era American remains. They're very similar in all of those aspects to the previous unilateral turnovers we received from north Korea," she said.
Dr. To says most remains have already been assigned to an anthropologist. She adds that once all are accessioned they'll undergo an in-depth forensic analysis to determine the age, height, sex and biological ancestry-- using DNA samples and other methods including histology analysis, which is used to study small fragments.
Currently, there are an estimated 7,700 unaccounted Americans from the Korean War, and an approximate 5,300 of the remains are still believed to be in North Korea.