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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2001

Palisades man to greet Korean War 'brothers'

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Nick Nishimoto will go into his storage room in Pacific Palisades on Wednesday morning and take out his black and white POW/MIA flag, the one with a silhouette of the face of an unknown soldier.

Nick Nishimoto waves the POW/MIA flag as Korean War remains are returned to U.S. soil. Nishimoto, a prisoner of war during the Korean War, has attended repatriation ceremonies at Hickam for the past 20 years.

Advertiser library photo • July 24, 2000

He'll put on his maroon POW/MIA garrison cap and drive out to Hickam Air Force Base, where the remains of nine Korean War veterans will come home to U.S. soil after nearly half a century.

"My feeling is that these men are my brothers," said Nishimoto, 72, who endured 33 months in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

Two teams from Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii recovered the latest remains in the Kujang and Kaechon counties of southern Pyongan Province in North Korea.

The Army's 25th and 2nd Infantry Divisions fought there against the 39th and 40th Chinese Armies.

Once the remains are in Hawai'i, anthropologists and odontologists will seek to identify them through DNA samples and other forensic techniques, a process that could take years.

The recovery operation was the laboratory's third in North Korea this year.

Fewer missions than had been hoped for in 2001 took place, after planning for the missions stalled late last year between North Korean and American officials.

The breakdown in discussions frustrated Hibbert Manley, a 73-year-old Korean War veteran from Wahiawa. "It's about time," he said of the resumed recoveries.

"They know where the bodies are," said Manley, who was a platoon sergeant with the 5th Regimental Combat Team. "The North Koreans hold out until we make a deal with them."

The laboratory plans to conduct at least two more North Korean operations this year, beginning on Aug. 29, said Sgt. Sebastian Harris.

So far, teams from Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii have recovered 127 remains in 19 separate North Korean operations since 1996.

Even with nine more sets of remains coming to the Army laboratory for possible identification, 8,100 American servicemen are still listed as missing from the Korean War.

Pentagon investigators are expecting to find as many as a thousand of these remains in the Chosin Reservoir area of North Korea, where a Central Identification Laboratory team scouted burial sites last month.

With so many men unaccounted for, Nishimoto and other Korean War veterans know they will never see all of the remains returned.

But it won't stop Nishimoto from continuing to attend the ceremonies at Hickam Air Force Base, just as he has done for the past 20 years.

"Whether they're coming from Vietnam or from the Pacific (theater), I am out there," Nishimoto said.

On Nov. 27, 1950, Pfc. Nishimoto was among 200 soldiers from Company B, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division who were captured north of Pyongan in an area called Unsan.

They were taken to the Yellow River and imprisoned in Camp 5, where 1,600 American soldiers died from disease and malnutrition over the next six months.

"They were dying like flies," Nishimoto said.

Most of the prisoners died during the brutal North Korean winters. The U.S. soldiers had no tools, Nishimoto said, and it was hard to bury the dead beneath the snow and hard soil.

Then in the spring and summer, the snow would melt and unearth the bodies. "When the first heavy rains came," Nishimoto said, "it wasn't nice."

So Nishimoto tried to take extra care when his best friend from basic training at Schofield Barracks, Albert S.K. Chang, died of blood poisoning. Nishimoto put Chang's dog tag in his mouth and got permission from a guard to bury him on a hill, away from the river.

Some day, Nishimoto hopes to travel with a Central Identification Laboratory team to North Korea and back to Camp 5.

"If they ever open up the camps," Nishimoto said, "I would very much like to go there and retrieve my buddy's remains."

Until then, Nishimoto will continue to greet each casket that arrives at Hickam Air Force Base.

He will wear his cap. And he will carry his POW/MIA flag. The one that reads "Not to be forgotten."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.