Friday, 18 September 2015

Korean War: Julie Bishop in renewed push to find 43 Australian servicemen still missing in action

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will lead a renewed diplomatic effort to retrieve the remains of Australian servicemen still listed as missing in action in Korea.

Of the 17,000 Australians who served in the conflict, 340 were killed and the bodies of some of those men were never brought home.

There are 43 Australian servicemen officially classified as MIA in Korea.

The Federal Government will again ask North Korea for access to sites along its demilitarised zone and attempt to recover any Australian remains.

Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert has a personal interest in the Korean War. His uncle was the first RAAF pilot shot down over North Korea in July 1950.

Although his uncle's body was brought home, Mr Robert knows many others families were left in limbo.

"I have enormous empathy for the families of the ... Australians whose remains aren't recovered," Mr Robert said.

While Pyongyang was not "welcoming us with open arms", he said the Government remained hopeful the North Koreans would grant Australia access to these sites.

"We hope for a break in the ice, as our Foreign Minister connects slowly with theirs," he said.

"But this may be a long waiting game."

'I'll give up when they identify remains'

Private John Philip Saunders was among the Australian soldiers who never returned from Korea.

Ian Saunders was just four years old when his father left for the war.

He has spent decades trying to locate the remains of his father and the other Australian servicemen.

"I'll give up when they identify remains, preferably all," Mr Saunders said.

He has maintained daily email contact with a tight-knit group of families and veterans, and written countless letters to defence bureaucrats and politicians in Australia and overseas.

Mr Saunders has been recognised with an OAM for his service to the families of Australian MIA soldiers in the Korean War.

US Army recovers 1,000 remains, almost 400 unidentified

"We do believe that there have been some [remains] recovered and they could only be described as unknown," he said.

The United States Army has recovered the remains of some 1,000 Korean MIAs, but almost 400 are yet to be identified.

Some of those bodies are stored at a US defence facility in Hawaii.

Mr Saunders believes some Australians could be among them and he has collected dozens of DNA samples from relatives of the missing men.

He now wants the Government to work with the Americans to try to find a match.

The Government said it was open to the idea.

"We've certainly made it very clear to our American friends that if they choose to do that work, then we'd be very keen to see what the results are," Mr Robert said.

More than anything else, Mr Saunders wants a headstone for his father and the 43 other men still listed as MIA.

"Let's drop the tag that it's the 'Forgotten War' and do something about it and don't forget to bring them back," he said.

Friday 18 September 2015


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