President Donald Trump announced Thursday that Army Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel, 32, of Vernon, Indiana, and Army Pfc. William H. Jones, 19, of Nash County, North Carolina, were the first two of the missing-in-action to be identified from among the 55 cases of remains returned by North Korea in August.
"These HEROES are home, they may Rest In Peace, and hopefully their families can have closure," Trump said in a Tweet.
He also said the identifications were the result of his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.
Last month, defense officials announced that McDaniel's name was on a dog tag found with the returned remains. The battered dog tag was returned to his two sons at an event in Arlington, Virginia, for the families of the missing from the Korean War.
"We were just overwhelmed," McDaniel's son, Charles Jr., 71, said at the event of the phone call that notified them.
"I have to say I didn't think about the emotions that were very deep, even though I was a small boy and have very little memory of my father," said Charles Jr., a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a chaplain.
"But I sat there and I cried for a while, and it took a while to compose myself," he said.
The president's Tweet came ahead of a Pentagon ceremony Friday with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford for the annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day to honor the more than 90,000 still listed as missing from all the nation's wars.
In a proclamation, Trump said that on Friday "the stark black and white banner symbolizing America's Missing in Action and Prisoners of War will again be flown over the White House," the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.
Earlier Thursday, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, head of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), said the two who had been accounted for were identified from remains in 55 transfer cases that arrived at an "honorable carry" ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii on Aug. 1.
At a breakfast with defense reporters, he said DPAA forensic teams were able to make preliminary identifications last week from partial skull and clavicle bone remains.
The families were notified, and further DNA analysis confirmed that "they were who we thought they were," McKeague said.
Both McDaniel and Jones were reported as missing in action in separate battles in November 1950. Both were declared dead on Dec. 31, 1950.
McDaniel was serving as a medic with the Army's 8th Cavalry Regiment Medical Company in support of the regiment's 3rd Battalion when he was reported missing in action on Nov. 2, 1950, in fighting against Chinese troops southwest of the village of Unsan and east of Hwango-ri in North Korea.
Jones, a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was reported missing in action on Nov. 26, 1950, during a withdrawal from an engagement with Chinese troops Pakchon in North Korea.
At a ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Washington Mall later Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence presented a flag that flew at the Hawaii return event to the memorial's foundation.
Pence repeated what he said at the arrival of the remains at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam: "Our boys are coming home."
The repatriation of the remains is considered the first tangible result from the summit with Kim, at which Trump declared that North Korea had agreed to begin denuclearization and dismantling of its intercontinental ballistic missiles.
However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has since confirmed intelligence estimates that North Korea is continuing to produce fissile material and missiles. Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. now has a 2021 deadline for denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.
McKeague said the U.S. team, led by Dr. John Byrd of the DPAA's Hawaii laboratories, that went to Wonsan, North Korea, in July to receive the remains had expected that there might be as many as 200 cases that the North Koreans already had in storage.
The North Koreans insisted that only 55 would be returned. "For us, it was not unexpected," McKeague said, adding that the North Koreans used the returns to feel out the U.S. on concessions. "We knew the North Koreans were treating it as a quid pro quo."
He said the 55 cases of remains are believed to have come from areas at Unsan and the Chosin Reservoir in northwestern North Korea, the scenes of horrific battles in 1950.
The DPAA is maintaining contacts with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea mission at the United Nations on the possibility of having a U.S. team go to the Chosin area on a joint recovery mission next spring, McKeague said.
"We fully believe they do want to resume" joint recovery missions, he said. "They want to sit down with us. There are two areas near Chosin we'd like to go."
The 55 cases of remains did not necessarily represent 55 individuals, McKeague said, since the remains were commingled. He noted that 208 cases of remains returned by the North Koreans in the 1990s were eventually discovered to represent more than 400 individuals.
According to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, 5.8 million Americans served in the military during the 1950-53 war. During that time, 36,574 Americans were believed to have been killed in action.
Of that total, 7,686 are still listed as missing in action. According to the DPAA, about 5,300 of the missing are believed to have been lost in what is now North Korea.
Editor's Note: The story mistakenly said there would be a White House ceremony on Friday.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.