The vice president of the United States, himself the son of a Korean War combat veteran, participated on Wednesday in an “Honorable Carry ceremony” marking the arrival of Korean War service member remains on American soil at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Korean War, which occurred from 1950 to 1953, took the lives of 36,000 American soldiers, and some 7,700 are listed as missing.
Two family members of Americans missing in North Korea during the Korean War, Diana Brown Sanfilippo and Rick Downes, also flew with the vice president on Air Force Two for the event, as CNN noted.
Sanfilippo’s father disappeared when she was four years old, inspiring her later in life to learn to fly the same kind of P-51 plane her dad was traveling in when he was hit by ground fire over North Korea. Downes’ father left for the Korean War as a radar operator on a B-26 bomber when Downes was three years old — but he, too, never returned.
Calling it an “historic occasion,” Pence extended the president’s greetings to those assembled for the somber and moving ceremony. “The Good Book says, ‘If you owe debts, pay debts. If honor, then honor; if respect, then respect,'” he said. “And we are gathered here, at this Honorable Carry ceremony, to receive 55 flag-draped cases, which we trust include the remains of American heroes who fell in the Korean War.”
The vice president noted that some call the Korean War the forgotten war. “But today,” he said, “we prove these heroes were never forgotten. Today, our boys are coming home.”
Pence was moved by the prospect of honored dead returning to home soil. “Honestly, I’ve never been more humbled to be asked to represent him,” he said of President Donald Trump.
The vice president spoke of his personal connection to the Korean War. “My dad, Lt. Ed Pence, fought in combat in the Korean War. He came back with a medal on his chest, but my dad, gone now 30 years, always told us that the real heroes of the Korean War were the ones that didn’t get to come home,” he reflected.
A U.S. soldier salutes during a repatriation ceremony for the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War and collected in North Korea, at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. https://t.co/1tFcpdbkgR pic.twitter.com/2Gd2clNGSN
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 1, 2018
“And I just know there’s no place Dad would rather have me be than here with all of you, welcoming these heroes home.”
Nearly 8,000 Americans did not come home at all. “Our nation has worked tirelessly to keep its sacred promise, to leave no man behind,” Pence noted. “And while several hundred of the missing fallen have been returned, for more than a decade as a result of North Korea’s nuclear threats and escalations, search and rescue and recovery efforts have been suspended — until today.”
Landed in Honolulu late last night. Humbled & honored to be here to take part in the Honorable Carry Ceremony for fallen U.S. heroes of the Korean War.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) August 1, 2018
He continued, “Our work will not be complete until all our fallen heroes are accounted for, and home.”
As a gentle breeze blew, Pence said, “Today they are known but to God, but soon we will know their names, and we will tell their stories of courage. We don’t know who will come off those planes today, but we do know they are heroes, all.”
As the remains return home, officials have asked families for help with the identification process, according to the Military Times.
“When North Korea handed over 55 boxes of bones that it said are remains of American war dead, it provided a single military dog tag but no other information that could help U.S. forensics experts determine their individual identities,” a U.S. defense official said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The @dodpaa hosts an honorable carry ceremony at @JointBasePHH. The flag-draped transfer cases being carried in the ceremony are believed to contain the remains of service members lost during the Korean War. https://t.co/nBpvb8ej8S
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 1, 2018
The defense official, who discussed previously undisclosed aspects of the American service member remains on the condition of anonymity, according to reports, said it will “probably take months or even years to fully determine individual identities from the remains, which have not yet been confirmed by U.S. specialists to be those of American servicemen.”
The remains, though, are likely American — according to an initial forensic analysis, Reuters reported.
Under partly cloudy skies, one row of service members — four to a casket — carefully carried American flag-draped coffins from a military plane into a nearby hangar, where sawhorses waited in rows to receive the remains.
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Back and forth the service members walked, in perfect step, with their honored cargo.