The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) held a repatriation ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, June 25, 2023.
The purpose of the ceremony was to transfer remains and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Armistice between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK). The efforts to return the remains are a part of the DPAA Korean War Identification Project. Obtained from various sources, over 200 sets of remains of ROK service members were held in DPAA’s laboratory, whereby after multiple Joint Forensic Reviews (JFR) and years of collaboration, were repatriated through the United Nations Command to the ROK in 2012, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021 ceremonies. There were seven sets of remains repatriated with one holding a positive identification.
Vice-Minister of National Defense, Mr. Shin Beom Chul, South Korea’s senior official in attendance, accepted the remains on behalf of the ROK.
“The Republic of Korea government and the Ministry of National Defense shall never forget and forever be indebted to our fallen veterans who sacrificed their lives for the freedom, peace and prosperity we enjoy today,” Shin stated. “We will make sure to faithfully return our seven heroes to the Republic of Korea with highest courtesy.”
The remains were analyzed by scientists and staff from the DPAA laboratory and the ROK’s Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification (MAKRI) during a JFR conducted prior to the ceremony. Working cooperatively and thoroughly, they concluded that the seven individual remains are of South Korean origin, and one of the remains have been individually identified and are pending final testing once they are returned to South Korea.
ROK Navy Senior Petty Officer Ho Jong Choi, the nephew of the identified individual is currently serving the ROK military, and he had the opportunity to attend the ceremony and escort his uncle’s, Private First Class Im Rak Choi, remains home. The ceremony’s other principal speaker, U.S. Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recognized the significance of this joint operation, its importance to the U.S.- ROK alliance and the story of PFC Choi.
“PFC Choi and the other six ROK Soldiers’ conviction to give the ultimate sacrifice symbolizes our ironclad ROK-US Alliance,” said Aquilino. “Because freedom is not free. And let me be clear, we are committed to sacrifice blood and treasure in defense of both of our nations. I am humbled to serve among all of you. Thank you for your time. Katchi Kapshida, ‘We go together.’”
The ROK flag-draped transfer case that contains the remains were placed on a ROK aircraft and returned to South Korea. The President of South Korea will receive the remains in South Korea on the 70th Anniversary of the Armistice between the U.S. and ROK.
Kelly McKeague, DPAA director, also spoke on the importance of the continued partnership between DPAA and MAKRI.
“The inordinate sacrifices made in the Korean War were not in vain when one considers the peace, security, stability, and prosperity that blesses South Korea and its citizens today. For the tens of thousands who sacrificed their lives in defense of liberty and remain missing, the United States and the Republic of Korea value and prioritize the search, recovery, and repatriation of our countrymen,” McKeague said. “We cannot, we must not, forget the supreme sacrifice made by our compatriots nor the answers and closure owed to their families.”
To view the ceremony, please visit the archived link at https://www.dpaa.mil/Livestreams/.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil or find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa/.