PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Vice President Mike Pence, other dignitaries and dozens of veterans gathered at Pearl Harbor on Wednesday for a somber repatriation ceremony to receive the possible remains of 55 American soldiers killed in the Korean War.
"Some have called the Korean War the forgotten war," Pence said, in an address at the Honorable Carry Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. "Today, we prove these heroes were never forgotten. Today, our boys are coming home."
He added that the return of the remains from North Korea signals "tangible progress" in the bid to "achieve peace on the Korean peninsula."
After Pence spoke, servicemembers carried 55 flag-draped coffins from an aircraft to a hangar, where they will be taken to a Hawaii lab in hopes of identifying them. Each coffin was carried by four members of the military — one each from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.
North Korea handed the remains over to the United States last week, in what the Trump administration said was the fulfillment of a pledge the nation made to President Trump during his historic meeting in June with dictator Kim Jong Un.
About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War and about 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.
At the Pearl Harbor ceremony, Pence delivered an emotional address, referencing his own connection to the Korean War — his father was a veteran — and America's pledge to bring all remains still in North Korea home.
"Our work will not be complete until all our fallen heroes unaccounted for are home," he said.
Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, echoed those words.
"Missing and unaccounted for service members are entitled to one certainty: That they will never be forgotten," he told attendees. "We honor them today as the very embodiment of the ideals of our nation."
Pence is in Hawaii with his wife, Karen.
After the ceremony, they will meet with U.S. servicemembers at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
They're expected to return to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, but no further public appearances are planned.
Police say there will be some road closures near Pearl Harbor and other parts of Oahu during Pence's visit. For security reasons, specific locations and times are not being released.
On Tuesday, a U.S. defense official told AP that when North Korea handed over the 55 boxes of bones that it said were the remains of American soldiers, it provided a single military dog tag but no other information that could help U.S. forensics experts determine their individual identities.
The official said it probably will take months if not years to fully determine individual identities from the remains, which have not yet been confirmed by U.S. specialists to be those of American servicemen.
The 55 boxes were handed over at Wonsan, North Korea last Friday and flown aboard a U.S. military transport plane to Osan air base in South Korea, where U.S. officials catalogued the contents.
After a repatriation ceremony at Osan, the remains were flown to Hawaii where they will undergo in-depth forensic analysis, in some cases using mitochondrial DNA profiles, at a Defense Department laboratory to attempt to establish individual identifications.
Last week, President Trump took to Twitter to thank North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for the remains, calling the event "a great moment."
The last time Pence was in Hawaii was in April 2017.