7.30 Report. By defence reporters Andrew Greene and Alex McDonald updated 18 Sep 2015.
Soldiers of 3rd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment in action in Korea
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: 23 are Army from the RAR Battalions (1 RAR – 3, 2 RAR -2, 3 RAR – 17 and RHU – 1), 18 RAAF and 2 RAN.
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.”
Ian Saunders – Son’s Campaign
Ian’s father Private John Philip Saunders was among the Australian soldiers who never returned from Korea: he died during a night raid in what is now known as the demilitarised zone.
In 2008 Ian sought to activate the Government into recovering the remains of the MIA. He made contact with thirty seven of the MIA families and has become their national spokesperson and co-ordinator.
A DoD letter of 1 July 2009, endorsed by Major General Craig Orme, stated ; ‘ ADF will only investigate human remains ….where there is strong circumstantial and cogent evidence ….this evidence make take the form of ……substantial research from military records.’
That evidence was discovered by Ian Saunders from AWM military records / war diaries / Operation Glory files and CARO Melbourne who had records confirming the last known location of 22 of the 23 Australian Army MIA’s. The documented evidence, 103 pages, was submitted to the Army History Unit, Campbell Park in August 2009 and subsequently passed onto Mr Brian Manns and hence the Unrecovered War Casualties (UWC) Unit was created. MIA Korea. Unrecovered War Casualties – Korea.
Ian, supported by the MIA Families Group, in their quest for action has written countless letters to defence bureaucrats and politicians in Australia and has had direct contact with authorities both in The United States Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) and in the South Korean Ministry of National Defence Agency for Missing in Action Recovery and Identification (MAKRI). He has supplied JPAC with DNA samples from MIA relatives.
Ian has previously lobbied Julie Bishop to seek the North Korean Government’s support.
The Americans are the leaders in the identification of recovered remains and from correspondence with Ian Saunders they are willing to assist Australia with DNA testing when requested by the Australian Government.
The Americans have been successful in their negotiations with the North Koreans to recover their MIA remains and in establishing an effective DNA testing facility in Hawaii. They have recovered the remains of some 1,000 MIAs but almost 400 are yet to be identified. Ian believes that some of those unidentified remains could be Australians.
Supporting the MIA recovery campaign is Korean veteran, retired Rear Admiral Ian Crawford, President of the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council and Michael Von Berg, President of The Royal Australian Regiment Association.
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. Has the Minister made the request?
The Korean War ended on 27 July 1953