A joint South Korean-U.S. search team is preparing for first-ever foray into Korea’s infamous demilitarized zone to look for the remains of some of the thousands of American soldiers still listed as missing in action.
A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said last week that the joint search “will be conducted to help provide valuable experience for future excavation projects inside the DMZ and it will mark the first search ever inside the DMZ."
According to the ministry statement, more than 13,000 South Korean and 2,000 U.S. troops are believed buried inside the unoccupied strip land that separates North and South Korea. During the Korean War, the ground over which the demarcation line is drawn repeatedly changed hands during the shifting fortunes of the war.
Planning for the operation now falls to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Wayne Perry.
“There are two teams in South Korea investigating the feasibility of searching south of the 38th Parallel. We are not doing a full recovery effort,” Perry tells Newsmax. Perry’s team of military and civilian experts must still decide whether the two-mile wide southern half of the demarcation line is too dangerous to search. It is filled with hazards from unexploded bombs and uncharted mine fields, says Perry.
The two Koreas fought a bloody war on the 684-mile long peninsula from June 25, 1950 until an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. Since then, the Communist North and democratic South have been divided at the 38th parallel by a four-mile wide demilitarized zone that splits the peninsula in two.
On June 1, 2005, North Korea ended a decade-old program that allowed JPAC officials to search for and recover the remains of Americans still believed to be in North Korea.
As for seeking the North’s permission for this latest search, “we have not entered into negotiations with the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea. That has not happened,” Perry says.
JPAC is charged with finding remains of missing American service members regardless of the war they disappeared in. There are currently 8,055 Americans missing in action on the entire Korean Peninsula from the Yalu River bordering Manchuria to the southern tip on the Yellow Sea, Perry says.
Only one of Perry’s two survey teams currently in South Korea will explore the DMZ, he says. The other is searching an area of South Korea where an American F-84 attack jet disappeared in the mudflats of the harbor at Pyongtek in 1953 on the western side of the peninsula. The South Korean government is expanding the harbor there and the crash site is threatened by the new construction.
In Korea, as well as other countries where the U.S. still has missing troops, new development is as big a threat to recovering missing service members as politics or the elements. The Korean DMZ is unique because it is unoccupied and virtually undisturbed by construction, according to Perry.
Time is another pressing danger, says Bruce Cabana, PW/MIA coordinator for the Korean War Veterans Association. His organization represents the interests of thousands of Korean War veterans nationwide.
According to association statistics 1,100 Korean War veterans are dying everyday. Survivors range from 75 years old and up with many now in their eighties. Aging friends and family members are dying without ever knowing what happened to their loved ones, Cabana said.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula technically still at war. About 28,500 U.S. troops are currently stationed in South Korea, Perry says.
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