Damien Memorial School alumnus Kelly McKeague ’77, director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Oahu, delivered a nationally televised press briefing at the White House August 14 regarding 55 boxes of human remains handed over by North Korea.
Although the skeletal remains are in “moderate to poor” condition, McKeague said he has “high confidence” that at least some of bones are from U.S. service members. Approximately 7,700 American troops who fought in the Korean War are still missing.
McKeague said the remains are undergoing a “painstaking, multifaceted” analysis in the DPAA facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the largest and most diverse skeletal identification laboratory in the world.
“The mettle of our scientists and the capabilities of our labs will be challenged,” McKeague told the news media, “but in the months and years ahead, they will make identifications from these remains and give families long-sought answers.”
The remains were turned over to the U.S. in July based on an agreement reached the prior month at a summit in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
McKeague, who was sworn in as DPAA director in September 2017, oversees all aspects of the agency’s mission to provide the fullest-possible accounting for missing service personnel from past conflicts. This worldwide enterprise involves research, investigation, recovery and identification operations, along with support functions.
Prior to retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 2016 at the rank of major general, McKeague served as DPAA Deputy Director and Commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, one of the entities merged in 2015 to form a new Department of Defense agency.
A Liliha native, McKeague earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He began his military career as a civil engineering officer in 1981, entered the Maryland Air National Guard in 1995, and served at the Air National Guard Readiness Center.
He also served as the Chief of Staff, National Guard Bureau and Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Guard Matters.
Speaking at a Damien honors assembly in 2013, McKeague said the seeds of his success were planted decades earlier at his alma mater. Notably, that included developing leadership principles he calls the “Five Cs” – “character, confidence, communication, challenge and compassion.” By practicing these principles, he said, “there is no doubt in my mind that you will be a great leader.”
In closing his inspirational talk, McKeague urged the students to take pride in their school.
“Be proud, be proud, be proud,” he said, “to be a Monarch.”