Korean War veteran hopes pact between U.S. and North Korea will finally bring remains of comrades home

Recovering remains of fallen soldiers
Recovering remains of fallen soldiers
Recovering remains of fallen soldiers

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – One part of the agreement signed by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un includes a commitment to recover and return the remains of U.S. Soldiers killed in the Korean War.

Korean War veteran Gene Esselborn, 86, heard the news Tuesday while telling war stories with fellow veterans over beers at VFW Post 98 on the westside.

“Oh God! I saw enough bodies to fill several graveyards,” said Esselborn. “They just killed, killed, the North Koreans did."

Esselborn joined the Army in 1948. He was only 16. He was stationed in Japan when the Korean War began in 1950.

“When that broke out we didn't even know where Korea was. Actually, we were like some 300 miles away."

Esselborn served on the ground in North Korea for a year.

"I lost all my buddies over there and what I didn't lose end up captured and they weren't quite right when they got home."

Esselborn’s comrade Johnnie Stout is one of 7,702 Korean War soldiers still unaccounted for.

"He died there in his sleep, frozen,” said Esselborn. “It was bad. It was better than 50 (degrees) below (zero). I know. I was there."

Esselborn is encouraged that the United States and North Korea have agreed to commit to recovering the remains of fallen soldiers.

"I want to see them bring back the bodies. Well, it won't be the bodies. It will be the skeletons. Give them a decent burial. I would go down to Hickory, Tennessee, to see that Johnnie got one."

Esselborn never thought he'd see the promise of peace where he fought almost 70 years ago.

"I didn't think I'd look for it, no. But I'm glad I lived long enough. Maybe that's why I've lived long enough just to see it."

Esselborn was just 18 years old when he was serving in North Korea.

176 Indiana soldiers are still unaccounted for who were captured or killed in the Korean War.

The new agreement should open North Korea to search teams to recover remains.

"We've not had that opportunity in North Korea, so this would be a real new opening for that possibility,” said Rees Morgan, Indiana 11th District Commander of the American Legion.

“It also gives us the chance to open avenues of conversation at multiple levels of their government and ours, the state department and the military resources to have a dialogue we have not had before."