TOKYO -- Remains recently unearthed in North Korea and believed to be those of seven American soldiers missing in action from the Korean War were repatriated Tuesday to the moan of bagpipes and the crack of a 21-gun salute.
A bugler blew taps as the caskets, draped in powder blue United Nations flags, were carried by full-dress military honor guards under a full moon and into a hangar at Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo.
A U.S. Air Force cargo plane picked up the remains in Pyongyang earlier in the day. On Wednesday, they are scheduled to be flown to the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for forensic examination.
"They will try to determine who these people were," Yokota's Captain Michael Braibish said after Tuesday's memorial ceremony.
The recoveries were made in the first of three searches scheduled this year in North Korea by U.S. teams with help from the North Korean army. The second search is scheduled to start Aug. 24 and end one month later. The final search will be in October.
The remains were first flown to Yokota Air Base because it was a staging point for the U.N. forces that backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Flags of the nations that sent troops, including Turkey, Thailand and Great Britain, flanked the caskets at Tuesday's hangar ceremony.
A group of U.S. veterans presented a funeral wreath.
Tom Schneider, commander of the UN Command Rear based in Japan, said their return would bring "a little bit of closure to those families" that lost loved ones.
More than 8,100 U.S. troops remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Since 1996, searches by U.S. teams have recovered 159 sets of remains in North Korea, of which 13 have been identified positively.
Pentagon officials have estimated that the Chosin area in North Korea eventually could yield about 1,000 remains of American servicemen.