Vice President Pence on Wednesday welcomed the return of the presumed remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War and called it a sign of "tangible progress" in ongoing negotiations with North Korea.
Pence attended a repatriation ceremony at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where 55 caskets of presumed troop remains were unloaded from military planes and placed on stanchions at the air base. The remains returned to U.S. soil are part of a deal struck between President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"Some have called the Korean War the forgotten war but today we prove these heroes were never forgotten. Today, our boys are coming home," Pence said.
"We see today as tangible progress in our attempts to achieve peace [with North Korea], but today's just the beginning," Pence says. "Our work will not be complete until all of our fallen heroes are accounted for and home." https://t.co/Ivxbw4u3zr pic.twitter.com/AQNJDp7TuU— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 1, 2018
As part of ongoing negotiations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, Kim agreed to return the remains of some U.S. troops. In return, Trump canceled large U.S. military exercises with South Korea and promised Kim unspecified security assurances.
"I know that President Trump is grateful that Chairman Kim has kept his word, and we see today as tangible progress in our efforts to achieve peace on the Korean peninsula," Pence said Wednesday.
"But today is just the beginning," he continued. "Our work will not be completed until all our fallen heroes are accounted for and home."
At the conclusion of his remarks, Pence looked on as soldiers approached the two military planes and began unloading caskets draped in American flags. Four service members were assigned to each case, and they carried them back to be placed on stanchions under cover of the military base.
The identities of the remains in the caskets returned Wednesday are unknown. However, John Byrd, the director of analysis for the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), told reporters on Tuesday that "there is no reason to doubt that they do relate to Korean War losses" after a forensic review.
The identification process could take several years depending on the condition of the remains, Reuters reported.
While the fighting in the Korean War lasted from 1950 until 1953, the war never formally ended because a treaty was never signed, though an armistice was struck dividing the peninsula in two.
There an estimated 5,300 Americans who did not return home from the conflict.
There was some initial uncertainty over the fate of the remains, as North Korean officials canceled a meeting last month to discuss how to go about returning them.
President Trump has on multiple occasions touted Kim's commitment to return the remains, even claiming at one point that North Korea had already sent U.S. troops back.
At a speech in Kansas City, Mo., last week, he walked back his comments, saying the fallen soldiers would be returning to the U.S. "very soon."