Dover Air Force Base to Play Role in Identifying Korean War Rema - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Dover Air Force Base to Play Role in Identifying Korean War Remains

Posted: Aug 16, 2018 7:07 PM -04:00 Updated:

DOVER, Del.- A DNA identification laboratory at Dover Air Force Base will be playing a critical role in identifying the presumed remains of U.S. servicemen returned by North Korea only a couple weeks ago.

The United States was given 55 containers of remains believed to hold remains former service members in late July, following diplomatic talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The decades-old remains arrived in Hawaii on Aug. 1 are expected to undergo anthropologic assessments before DNA samples will be sent to the DNA Identification Laboratory in Dover.

Dr. Tim McMahon, the director of DNA operations for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, said the process may be time-consuming but ultimately helps bring closure to families of Korean War soldiers who didn't return home.

"What people need to realize is that we never give up," he said, noting the agency has a 92 percent success rate in cases using mitochondrial DNA to make identifications.

Dr. Charla Marshall, the head of emerging technologies section for the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, said samples undergo a large amount of testing through techniques that can look at mitochondrial or nuclear DNA.

"It's a more complicated process because of the age of the samples, dating back to the Korean War, so that brings on a certain set of issues with DNA we don't see in regular forensics," she said.

Once the remains of a service member are identified, families are typically notified with a "Believe to Be" letter notifying them of the findings. Staffers at the laboratory also mark the locations where the fallen service members hailed from using pins on a big board. 

Jessica Bouchet, a forensic technician at the lab, said the hard work to identify remains pays off when the name of a fallen service member can be added to the list of people identified. 

"All you see are case numbers and sample numbers...It's not until we have that data, that report that we were writing, saying we've identified someone --- that's when you remember all your work is worth it," she said.

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