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Korean War POW/MIA Briefing Book

NCNK Issue Briefs

NCNK Issue Brief: Korean War POW/MIAs There are approximately 8,000 Korean War POW/MIAs from the United States who remain unaccounted for, with an estimated 5,500 buried in North Korea. This issue brief reviews the history of POW transfers at the end of the Korean War, and details the remains recovery operations that have occurred since then.


Medal of Honor Recipient Urges U.S. to Re-engage with North Korea (August 2, 2013) Following his return from a mission to attempt the recovery of the remains of a friend whose plane was shot down during the Korean War, Captain Thomas Hudner has sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry relaying North Korea's wish to resume the joint U.S.-DPRK remains recovery operations that were suspended in 2005. In his letter, Hudner said the officials of the Korean People's Army told him "they wish for this humanitarian mission to continue regardless of the larger political issues."  
Navy Vet Fails to Make it to N. Korea War Site (July 29, 2013) The AP reports that retired Navy Captain Thomas Hudner left North Korea without finding the remains of a friend and comrade who had died in the Korean War. Ensign Jesse Brown, who had served as Hudner's wingman, was shot down in December 1950 and was ultimately unable to escape his aircraft. Hudner crashed his own plan in an unsuccessful attempt to save Brown, and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The road to the site where Brown and Hudner crashed was reportedly washed away by recent floods, and the site was inaccessible during Hudner's trip. Additional news on this story is available here
US Suspends Efforts to Recover Fallen Troop Remains in North Korea (March 21, 2012) The Washington Post reports that the US is suspending planned remains recovery missions in North Korea. Spokespersons for the Pentagon cited the DPRK's planned satellite launch, bellicose statements about South Korea, and linkage of the missions to US-ROK joint military exercises led to the decision to suspend the operations. The US left open the possibility of resuming the missions if the situation improves.
Hunt for Missing U.S. Troops Set to Begin in North Korea (March 8, 2012) The Associated Press reports that the US military is preparing to begin POW/MIA remains recovery missions in North Korea. A US ship transporting equipment arrived in the country earlier this month, and a US advance team is expected to arrive soon; searches are expected to begin in April. A Pentagon spokesperson said that North Korea would receive $5.7 million for four missions to last through September, compensation for services including food, fuel, labor, transportation, water, and security.
Remains Recovery Operations to Begin in March (January 26, 2012) The Washington Post, citing a letter from Sen Richard Lugar to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, reports that operations to recovery the remains of US POW/MIAs killed in North Korea will begin in March. A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that by March 1, the North Korean military will begin preparations for the arrival later that month of a US advance team, which will evaluate conditions and prepare for the operations.

Government Web Sites and Reports

GAO Report on DOD's POW/MIA Mission: Top-Level Leadership Attention Needed to Resolve Longstanding Challenges in Accounting for Missing Persons from Past Conflicts.
Korean War Accounting: Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO)  The DPMO website has the most up-to-date government information on Korean War POW/MIA Resources.  This links to the home page for Korea, where there are links to many other resources including a listing of all Korean War personnel still unaccounted for. 
CRS Letter: Korean War POW/MIA Punchbowl Remains This letter from the Congressional Research Service was written by Specialist in Military Manpower Policy Charles Henning in response to an August 3, 2011 letter from Sen. Richard Lugar. It addresses remains of Korean war POW/MIAs buried in the Hawaiian cemetery known as the Punch Bowl, and related issues. The letter is dated September 27, 2011.
POWS and MIAs Status and Accounting Issues (CRS RL 33452) This Congressional Research Service report covers all POWs and MIAs from 20th Century wars, as well as the ongoing Iraq War. Korean War POWs/MIAs are specifically addressed on pages 8-9. This report was updated on June 1, 2006.
KCNA Statements on Korean War POW/MIA Issues This file contains a compilation of recent statements from North Korea's state-controlled news outlet concerning Korean War POW/MIA issues. It will be updated periodically.

Congressional Hearings

Mismanagement of POW/MIA Accounting On August 1, 2013, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight held a hearing to investigate allegations that the recovery process between JPAC and DCMO was under threat of complete failure from a leaked report. Witnesses included Major General Kelly K. McKeague, Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command; Maj. General (ret.) W. Montague Winfield, Director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office; and John A. Goines, Chief of the U.S. Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory.

Department of Defense's Challenges in Accounting for Missing Persons from Past Conflicts On August 1, 2013, the House Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee also held a hearing into the internal report on failures in the remains recovery process. Dr. Paul M. Cole and Ms. Brenda S. Farrell both gave their remarks to the committee, highlighting issues that have plagued efficiency in the workplace.

Improving Recovery and Full Accounting of POW/MIA Personnel from all Past Conflicts  A transcript of a hearing held on April 2, 2009 before Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services. Government witnesses include Rear Adm. Donna L Crip and Deputy Assistant Secretary Charles A. Ray. Other witnesses include POW/MIA advocate Ron Broward, former Marine Frank Metersky and Robin Piacine, Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.

Oversight and Status of POW/MIA Activities  A transcript of a hearing held on July 10, 2008 before the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services, addressing topics such as the resumption of joint field operations in the DPRK and the rate of identification of remains already recovered.

Status of POW/MIA Negotiations with North Korea This is a transcript of a hearing held on June 20, 1996 before the Military and Personnel Subcommittee of the House Committee on National Security. Witnesses include Insung O. Lee, DPMO Analyst and Paul Cole, Researcher and former DOD Archivist in Russia and East Europe.  

Cold War, Korea, WWII POW's This is the transcript of the two days of hearings before the Select Committee on POW Affairs held  November 9-10 1992 regarding Cold War, Korea, WW II POWs. The Select Committee, which had been created as a result of a Senate resolution, initially focused on POWs in Indochina. However, the original mandate included POWs from other wars.  Witnesses included Rand researcher Paul Cole, Lt. Col. Philip Corso, who had served in the NSC during the Eisenhower administration and Charles Kartman, then director of the Office of Korean Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.

Laws and Resolutions

National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 -- Language Relevant to POW/MIA Issues This Report on the House version of the FY 2013 NDAA (H.R. 4310) contains language directing a review of the Defense Department’s efforts to increase its identifications of unaccounted-for personnel from previous wars, including the Korean War. H.R. 4310 also contained a provision allowing volunteers to assist the Defense Department in efforts to account for missing personnel. 

H. Res. 376 -- Calling for the repatriation of POW/MIAs and abductees from the Korean War This resolution, submitted by Representative Charles Rangel to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 27, 2011, calls upon North Korea to repatriate any living American and South Korean POWs and civilian abductees from the Korean War, and calls upon the US government to resume search and recovery operations for the remains of American POWs in North Korea.  The Resolution was passed by voice vote on December 13, 2011. 

National Defense Authorization Act FY 2010 Section on POW/MIA Identification As part of the funding authorization for the US military in FY 2010, Congress required the Secretary of Defense to implement a program to identify unaccounted for POW/MIAs from conflicts including the Korean War. The law requires the Department of Defense to provide enough resources to identify at least 200 missing persons annually, beginning in FY 2015.

Public Statements from Government Officials

Senator McCaskill letter to Defense Department Inspector General In this September 13, 2013 letter, Senator McCaskill requests that the Defense Department include an assessment of the work environment and possible retaliation against employee complaints in its review of the POW/MIA accounting community. 

Senator Lugar letter to Secretary Panetta In this January 17, 2012 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Senator Richard Lugar, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urges Secretary Panetta to "request all available information about the approximately 8,000 missing Americans from the Korean War," and to find information on whether any missing American military personnel remain alive in North Korea.

Kelly Ayotte letter to Secretaries Panetta, Clinton In this August 24, 2011 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) calls on the government to "resume joint search and recovery operations in North Korea as soon as possible."

Senator Lugar requests report on unidentified remains of Korean War casualties On August 3, 2011, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) requested a report from the Congressional Research Service on the Punch Bowl National Cemetery in Hawaii, which contains the remains of unidentified American casualties from the Korean War. Senator Lugar asked for information on the progress of identifying the remains, among other related topics.

John Kerry calls for rethinking US approach to North Korea In a June 26, 2011 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) argues that US policy toward North Korea has been "inadequate," and calls for the United States to directly engage North Korea. He argues that cooperation on humanitarian issues, including the resumption of remains recovery operations and carefully monitored food aid to vulnerable populations in North Korea, would provide the initial steps toward broader engagement.

Advocacy Groups

Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POWs/MIAs 

Korea Cold War Families of the Missing 

Korean War MIA/POW Network

Korean War Casualties Database (part of the Korean War Project) 

Korean War Veterans Association  (can also click here ) 

National Alliance of Families


 Other Resources

Ken Quinones: The US-DPRK Agreed Framework and the U.S. Army's Return to North Korea This paper describes the negotiations leading to the joint recovery missions that took place in the DPRK between 1996 and 2005. 

Operation Glory: Condensed from Graves Registration Division Korean Communications Zone (KCOMZ) Historical Summary July-December 1954  

Coalition of Families Summer 2012 Newsletter This newsletter describes how the US-DPRK agreement to resume joint remains recovery operations in North Korea fell apart, and outlines other issues relevant to the mission to repatriate and identify U.S. service members who remain unaccounted for from foreign wars.