By Sungwon Baik – WASHINGTON— The process of identifying American remains from the Korean War has picked up speed. Out of the 208 boxes of U.S. remains that Pyongyang handed over to Washington in the early 1990s, a total of 49 were identified in the last three years.
That is a large increase from earlier efforts, when only 61 bodies were identified between 1992 and 2011. The progress came after the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) launched its “K208 Project Team” in 2011.
The process sped up significantly with the use of state-of-the-art DNA identification technology based on the remains’ location information.
In an interview with the VOA Korean service, forensic anthropologist Jennie Jin, who’s leading the project, attributed the advancement in DNA analysis and comparison technology to the breakthrough in JPAC’s findings.
Forensic anthropologist Jennie Jin says DNA testing is crucial.Forensic anthropologist Jennie Jin says DNA testing is crucial.
“There were many instances where remains that look like they are from one person actually had different people’s bones assembled together,” Jin said. “In such cases, [a] DNA test is crucial.”
Boxes’ contents confusing
While Pyongyang claimed each box represented a single U.S. service member lost during the war, the American team found that most boxes contained remains from more than one individual.
According to K208, the boxes from Pyongyang also contain remains of South Korean and possibly other United Nations Command soldiers.
The minimum number of remains in the 208 boxes is estimated to be around 600.
“We have to use anatomical, anthropological testing, as well as precise DNA identification,” Jin said.
Relatives’ DNA helps
The Korean-American manager said DNA samples acquired from surviving family members contributed greatly to speeding up the process. According to Jin, the information found in DNA testing is not very useful until it can be compared to the DNA testing results of their family members.
“Back in 1999, we could only attain 15 percent of DNA samples from the family members. Now we have 89 percent,” Jin said. That means JPAC acquired DNA samples of around 14,000 people in the last decade.
In addition to the work by JPAC, the U.S. military also has identified more than 30 remains from the Korean War through other projects.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Korean Service.