In this Aug. 1, 2018, file photo Vice President Mike Pence and Navy Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, right, watch as military members carry transfer cases from a C-17 at a ceremony marking the arrival of the remains believed to be of American service members who fell in the Korean War at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. (Susan Walsh/AP)
WASHINGTON — The remains of a U.S. soldier believed to have been captured by Chinese forces in North Korea in December 1950 and later died in a prisoner-of-war camp have been identified, officials said Thursday.
The soldier, Sgt. Frank Julius Suliman, is the third American service member to be identified from among 55 boxes of bones and other material that the North Korean government handed over to the United States last summer. Efforts to identify them are led by a Defense Department laboratory in Hawaii.
The Pentagon said Suliman, a member of the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division, was from New Jersey, but it did not immediately have more detailed information such as his hometown or date of birth. His remains were identified on Jan. 15.
The return of unspecified numbers of Korean War remains was among commitments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his summit meeting with President Donald Trump in June. Kim also agreed to “work toward” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but efforts to move that deal toward an elimination of the North’s nuclear weapons have been stalled. A follow-up summit is expected to be held next month.
Although the Pentagon wants to make arrangements to recover additional U.S. battlefield remains from North Korea this year, the North Koreans thus far have been unwilling to agree to face-to-face negotiations.
By the Pentagon’s account, Suliman was captured by Chinese forces on Dec. 1, 1950. He had been riding in a vehicle convoy when it was halted by a roadblock south of Kunu-ri, North Korea. Fellow soldiers later reported that Suliman was captured after they abandoned their vehicles to proceed on foot.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers entered the Korean War on North Korea’s behalf in the fall of 1950 after U.S. forces gained the upper hand with the Inchon landing in September. The Chinese pushed the Americans and their South Korean allies south; thousands were buried in shallow battlefield graves or perished in POW camps.
By the Pentagon’s account, Suliman was taken to a Chinese-run camp at Pukchin-Tarigol in northern North Korea, and he died there in March 1951. The camp was in a narrow valley that the Americans called “Death Valley.” Soldiers who survived captivity there recalled harsh conditions, with little food and rampant disease.
The Pentagon says the remains of 350 Americans may be at the “Death Valley” camp. In all, the Pentagon believes the remains of more than 5,000 U.S. servicemen who perished in North Korea could be recovered.
The Pentagon says it has not yet determined how many U.S. servicemen may be identified from the remains in the 55 boxes returned by North Korea last August. Prior to Suliman, only two had been positively identified. They are Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, of Butler, Missouri, and Vernon, Indiana, and Army Pfc. William H. Jones, of Nash County, North Carolina.