Thomas Maresca

Special for USA TODAY

Published 11:55 p.m. UTC Jul 27, 2018

SEOUL – North Korea on Friday returned the remains of what are believed to be U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War, the White House said. 

A U.S. cargo plane arrived at an American air force Base in South Korea Friday morning, a step in fulfilling an agreement made between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un at their historic summit in Singapore last month.

The plane, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster, transported the remains from Wonsan, North Korea to Osan Air Force Base, located some 40 miles south of Seoul. It was accompanied by service members from United Nations Command Korea and technical experts from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the Hawaii-based government agency responsible for recovering missing personnel, according to a statement from the White House.

The United Nations Command confirmed there were 55 cases of remains returned Friday. 

The aircraft, flanked by two fighter jets, arrived at approximately 11:00 a.m. local time and was met by American service members and a military honor guard. A formal repatriation ceremony headed by General Vincent Brooks, commander of American forces in Korea, is scheduled to take place on August 1. The remains are then expected to be sent to the DPAA in Hawaii for forensic testing to determine if the remains are human and if the dead were American or allied troops killed in the conflict.

“Now, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home,” Brooks said in a statement. 

The move came on the 65th anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended fighting in the 1950-1953 Korean War. 

More: Trump demands North Korea live up to agreement

More: North Korea begins dismantling rocket launch site facilities

“The United States owes a profound debt of gratitude to those American service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home,” the White House said in a statement. “It is a solemn obligation of the United States Government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.”

Trump also expressed his gratitude to Kim in a tweet, calling it “a great moment for so many families.”

About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea. The war killed millions, including 36,000 American soldiers.

Returning U.S. war remains was a rare tangible commitment Kim made during his meeting with Trump in Singapore, where they issued a vague aspirational goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how that would occur.

Contributed: The Associated Press

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