At the end of the 3-year war between the communist supported north and the U.S. backed south, 3,597 U.S. prisoners were released by North Korea during two major POW swaps on the 38th Parallel.
But according to Korean War veteran Mike Dowe, about 20 living soldiers were left behind and have been added to the list of hundreds of Americans that have been reported missing in action during the war, CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports.
Dowe was among the last group of American troops to be handed over for release in the summer of 1953 when, he said, he was held back with others.
"They pulled a few of us out and took us to this other area where we were tried and sentenced to different sentences," Dowe told CBS News.
The North Korean POW said he managed to slip away from his captors and join the line of prisoners crossing the border.
"I was very fortunate none of those others have been heard from yet again that I know of," Dowe said.
Dowe said he immediately told the Pentagon about the American soldiers left behind, but the record of that debriefing has not been uncovered in declassified files. And what happened to the prisoners remains a mystery, one of many concerning U.S. servicemen missing in Korea.
The Pentagon keeps a list of 386 Americans last seen alive in the Korean Peninsula but never heard from again. The Pentagon claims more than 8,100 U.S. troops are still missing from the Korean War - eight times more than Vietnam.
For Irene Mandra it's meant 50 years of not knowing what happened to her brother Phillip.
"They just said that he disappeared, and that was all the information they could give us," Mandra said.
Convinced Phillip had been taken prisoner, she produced an artist's conception of what he would look like as he aged. Mandra said an old Russian colonel saw it and said he had seen that face at a prison in Siberia.
"He said 'I remember his face,'" Mandra told CBS News.
Although Pentagon investigators have never confirmed the Russian colonel's claim, the thought that her brother has been a prisoner all these years haunts Mandra.
"This is a lot of years to worry and to think," she said, adding that she's still seeking answers to a large collection of questions. "Is he there? Is he eating? Is he being tortured? How much is he crying? How much does he miss home? Are they mistreating him? What's happening?"
Over the years the North Koreans have returned more than 1,000 sets of human remains recovered in North Korea, but even with new techniques of DNA matching most of the remains are still unidentified.
Instead, they now lie buried and unknown at the Cemeterof the Pacific in Hawaii.
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