OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea – A US Air Force plane carrying the remains of 55 Americans killed during the Korean War came on Friday morning, the 65th anniversary of the truce that took place ended the fight.
The US Air Force C-17 launched at 6 am on Friday at Kalma Airport in the North Korean city of Wonsan. It returned at about 11 am local time, where it was greeted by several thousand US soldiers and their families – all American service members in South Korea had been invited to the event.
The exchange means that part of the agreement between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 1
"Today's steps are an important first step in resuming the repatriation of North Korea remnants and continuing field operations in North Korea to look for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home," the spokeswoman said White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on Thursday night.
The remains are expected to remain in Osan for a few days for initial testing before a repatriation ceremony takes place on August 1 and they will be sent to Hawaii.
Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday that North K orea has adopted 100 wooden caskets that it will use for the return of the remains. The US military command in South Korea moved the coffins to the demilitarized zone, which will split the Korean peninsula at the end of June.
Earlier Thursday, the expected recovery was greeted with cautious optimism by Rick Downes, the executive director of a group of families who loved him, who never came back from the Korean War. They have been following discussions over the last few weeks with a mix of hope and cynicism, he said.
"Unfortunately, these are poker chips," said Downes, who heads the coalition of POW and POW war prisoners. "These guys, these missing men, are still serving, the war continues, and they are being negotiated and used as a bargaining chip."
A US official told the Washington Post last week that North Korea has agreed to leave about 55 remains to hand over. Friday was suggested as a probable date for repatriation because of its symbolic significance as the anniversary of the ceasefire, but the official warned that the date might change and that the number of remnants would have to be checked after handover.  Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has dealt with repatriation problems and visited North Korea several times, said Thursday that he sees the potential recovery as a positive first step. But he warned that Pyongyang could pass on other remains and try to use the problem to earn money.
"They will immediately provide a set of remnants for free," prophesied Richardson. "But then they will say, 'The next, we have to find them, find them, restore them.' And then they start to load, and they will milk that."
Although the United States has done a policy of refusing to pay for the repatriation of remains, in the past it has agreed to provide some expenses for the North Koreans' expenditures.
The Pentagon estimates that nearly 7,700 US soldiers have disappeared from the war; Among them are 5,300 people killed north of the 38th parallel, which coincides largely with the border between North and South Korea.
The North Korean government is said to have between 120 and 200 groups of US military remains in their region and ready to deliver, but there are thousands more still in the North Korean countryside, said Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Global Operations Center, which the former governor founded.
Some remains were buried by cemeteries by US troops They should be temporary until China's entry into the Korean War forced US forces to retreat further south. Other remains are where airplanes crashed or unmarked graves, Bergman said.
"One of the things that matter so much is for the American people to understand that this is only the beginning," he said. It will take years, it will need interviews and visual surveys and teams on the ground, I'm afraid we'll get those remains and say once again "mission accomplished!" And that's not it. "
After the mortal remains returned scientific tests are required to confirm that they belong to American soldiers from the Korean War. In the past, North Korea was accused of intentionally involving non-American bones – even animal bones – to deceive the US authorities.
The mortal remains are sent to Hawaii, where the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency operates a laboratory in the Pearl Harbor-Hickam Joint Base. The identification there could take years, US officials said. It often contains a review of archive information that determines where certain US troops have probably disappeared or been buried.
Following the historic summit between the two leaders last month, Trump and Kim agreed to work together to recover US remnants to implement North Korea and the "immediate repatriation of those already identified".
Just a few days after Kim met Trump's return of the remains as something that had already happened. "We got our big fallen heroes, the remnants, back," he told an election campaign in Minnesota. "In fact, 200 have already been sent back today."
However, while the US military had previously moved into caskets into the common security area of the Korean Peninsula, no remains had been returned. Soon the negotiations dragged on longer than many expected.
"It took such a long time to secure such low-hanging fruit that it is a bad sign that North Korea wants to maintain its traditional bargaining position," said Van Jackson, a Pentagon official at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand informed, said about the imminent repatriation.
It was expected that Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo would return with remains when he visited Pyongyang on July 6. However, after his team was criticized by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, his visit only pointed to tensions between the United States and North Korea over the return of remnants and issues related to denuclearization.
On July 12, North Korean military men kept their US counterparts waiting in the common security area for hours before calling late to demand that they postpone their previously agreed meeting. Only after this meeting and the following was practical progress made.
Part of the raids appear to be North Korean payment requests.
The last time North Korea's military returned was probably the remnant of American troops in 2005 in the face of escalating tensions with Pyongyang as the United States ran a program since the 1990s.
In 2007, Richardson visited North Korea on a private mission that had the approval of the Bush administration. Richardson returned with the remains of six military personnel.
The return of the remains would now take place after commercial satellite imagery showed that North Korea had destroyed part of a satellite testing facility that was part of the country's missile development program. Trump, who told reporters in June that North Korea had agreed to destroy this facility, said Tuesday that the United States appreciates the move.
Lamothe reported from Washington.