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Pence receives Korean War remains in somber ceremony

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, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. North Korea handed over the remains last week.

Susan Walsh / AP

Last Updated Aug 2, 2018 12:55 AM EDT

Vice President Mike Pence accepted the remains of presumed U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War at a ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii Wednesday night. The remains were returned from North Korea, one of President Trump's requests.

"We don't know who will come off these planes today. But we do know they are heroes, all," Pence said.

After Pence's speech, a military honor guard carried the cases in one by one, as somber music played. 

Identifying the remains will be a challenge. When North Korea handed over 55 boxes of bones it claimed are the remains of America's soldiers, it provided only one military dog tag and no other information to help U.S. forensic analysts to determine identities. The remains will be tested in Hawaii. It's unclear how long some families will have to wait.

Pence said the return of the first set of the remains shows progress in the relationship with North Korea, but is only a first step.

"We see today as tangible progress in our attempts to achieve peace, but today's just the beginning," Pence said. "Our work will not be complete until all of our fallen heroes are accounted for and home." 

Mr. Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the return of the fallen soldiers last week.

"At this moment, a plane is carrying the remains of some great fallen heroes from America, back from the Korean War," Mr. Trump said Friday. "They're coming back to the United States. Mike Pence, our wonderful vice president, will be there to greet the families and the remains. And I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word. We have many others coming. But I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me. And I'm sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search. These incredible American heroes will soon lay at rest on sacred American soil."

Later, the president took to Twitter to convey similar thoughts:

The Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953, killed 36,000 American soldiers, and about 7,700 are listed as missing.