Two U.S. Soldiers Identified from Remains Provided by North Korea, More Expected
By OTTO KRESIHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified two U.S. Soldiers among the remains recently provided by North Korea and expects it will find the remains of more than 55 individuals in the 55 boxes of skeletal fragments, the agency’s director said Sept. 20.
One of the Soldiers was identified relatively quickly because a partial skull could be matched against dental records and the other because a clavicle was matched to an existing X-ray, and the tentative identities then were confirmed by DNA matching, director Kelly McKeague said.
With that information, the Army notified family members this week, McKeague told a Defense Writer’s Group breakfast.
McKeague did not reveal the names of the Soldiers because President Donald Trump was expected to announce them at the annual National POW-MIA Recognition ceremony at the Pentagon Sept. 21. The president, however, announced the names in a tweet Sept. 20.
The two Soldiers identified are: Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, 32, of Vernon, Indiana; and PFC William H. Jones, 19, of Nash County, North Carolina.
“These heroes are home, they may rest in peace and hopefully their families can have closure,” the president said in the tweet.
The Soldiers’ remains will be given to their families for burial.
The remaining remains turned over by North Korea on July 27 will take longer because they are mainly parts of legs and arms that will have to be processed through “meticulous DNA sequencing” and compared with DNA samples provided by relatives of 92 percent of the service members unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War, McKeague said.
The director said the agency did not know how many individuals are represented by the “mish mash of bones” contained in the 55 boxes released by North Korea. The expectation that there will be more than 55 persons is based on the finding that 208 boxes of remains released in 1991, the last previous exchange, contained parts of more than 400 individuals, he said.
It is likely that some of the remains in the latest release could be of Soldiers from some of the other nations that fought in the U.N. coalition. But the nationality of the remains can be determined much quicker through a process known as stabilized isotope analysis. That process can identify the geographic region and, in the case of Americans even the states, in which the individual grew up by finding chemical elements in bones that reflect what the person ate and drank.
That process allowed the agency to identify remains of South Korean soldiers in the 1991 release from North Korea. Those remains will be given to South Korea in an upcoming ceremony, McKeague said.
The director said his agency was trying to start negotiations with North Korean officials to resume joint field investigations in North Korea for missing U.S. service members. He said the North Koreans appear eager to restart the in-country explorations. But the agency would have to get past the “out of sorts” demands the North Koreans proposed in exchange for resuming the field operations, he said.
Although the United States has agreed in the past to reimburse North Korea for its expenses in the joint searches, this time it requested eight ambulances. The agency also would have to get exemptions from the stiff economic sanctions the administration has imposed on Pyongyang in an effort to force it to shed its nuclear weapons. The exemptions would cover the vehicles, fuel and other supplies the U.S. team would take into North Korea.
McKeague said his agency also is in negotiations with Russia and China to conduct searches in those countries for U.S. remains from past conflicts, including the Cold War.