Memories of the JSA, Sept '75 - Oct '76  

Things I remember that establish some kind of a background to the "tree incident", who we were, and why we did the things we did. We by no means were completely innocent, and did many things that were fun to us, aggravating to others, could have got us in a LOT of trouble if we were ever caught, and at times, extremely disrespectful. Mostly, it was the nature of a bunch of young guys in a strange country with little of our culture to fall back on, but we had a very close, tight-knit camaraderie and “esprit de corps” within our unit. Morale was almost always extremely high, and rarely dropped. It was widely rumored among our unit, that if the balloon went up, our whole unit roster was already (and always was), on file with graves registration, so our next of kin could be notified. Our normal platoon rotations were duly noted as well, so it would be known that if anybody survived, it would be members of the off-duty platoon, but the two duty platoons were probably toast. None of us were ever expected to survive any kind of all-out offensive, just trained on how to respond to small-scale “incidents”.

Some of this is written so people who were there will automatically know what I’m talking about, while other parts I stray a bit so somebody who wasn’t there will gain a little understanding of what part of it was like. There’s just no way to ever adequately explain Korea (at the time) to somebody who wasn’t there.

 The initial arrival in Korea. As the plane lands at Kimpo (civilian) Airport, I see all of the military jets parked in revetments along the runways.  Almost as soon as the plane door opens, a pungent aroma in the air assaults your senses. Eventually you find out that it called Kimchi, a Korean food staple of cabbage, red peppers, garlic, and other stuff that’s thrown into an earthen pot and buried for several months while it’s allowed to ferment. We soon began to refer to everything Korean as Kimchi. Shortly after the arrival at the 8th Army Replacement Center, we’re all presented a very graphic slideshow on the dangers of VD and the various forms available within the Republic of Korea. 26 years later I still remember those pictures and cringe every time I think of them. We don’t even spend the night there before a tall guy with a light blue (infantry blue) scarf calls out a few names, “Luttrull, House, Munk, Ferguson”. We head over and we are told that we have been selected to be volunteers at an elite unit within the DMZ. Service at the unit is purely voluntary and we are going on a familiarization tour to allow us to make up our minds and meet our potential superiors, who will ultimately decide whether we are accepted or not. In order to be selected we must be over 6 feet tall, a GT score of over 110, and no blemishes on our record (no Art. 15’s or anything). As I remember, he also said that all officers had to be promotable upon their completion of duty to the next rank. We must then pass the initial interview with our potential superiors, and then (if we decide we accept the conditions of duty), the final decision to volunteer remains with us. Anybody during the interview process can say no at time for whatever reason, and that’s the end of it.  We accept and hop into a van for the ride up. I remember seeing how militarized the country is. Quad-.50 machinegun emplacements at the center of many different intersections, the huge walls of earth that the MSR (Military Supply Route) runs through. I can see dirt paths leading up the walls with little pits of bare earth scattered along the top. I assume that these are fighting positions for machineguns, etc. Above the road is a huge block of concrete with the edges resting on the top corners of the “tunnel”. We are informed that underneath the edges are explosive charges. In the event of a North Korean attack, the charges are blown, the concrete drops down, and blocks the road. These concrete blocks are big enough to completely cover a four-lane road for a distance about equal to a large bus, and about 20 feet high. Along the north side of these we see concrete dragons teeth, triangles of concrete, which if hit by an armored vehicle, will tip over and still present an obstacle to the vehicle, some of which are booby-trapped as well. While it may not completely stop a tank, it will slow it down enough to allow accurate sighting with an anti-armor weapon.  There are also numerous other “tank-stoppers” that look like several large I-beams all welded together, barbwire entanglements, mine field markers, and more military emplacements everywhere. The whole country, at least what I’ve seen of it so far, appears to one huge military encampment, designed to slow the enemy and inflict as many casualties as possible at each site. We pass through probably 4 or 5 more of these sites, which run across most of the country to impede the advance of any North Korean advance. There is an abundance of rice paddies though. They seem to be the only thing that outnumbers the military “stuff”. Finally we reach Freedom Bridge, have our ID’s checked, wait for the traffic heading south to cross, since it’s only a one lane bridge, and we get to cross. North of the river seems peaceful compared to the south side. Nowhere near as many people or traffic, though the military presence is just as obvious.

 The Maj. Henderson incident, which happened shortly before we arrived in Korea.  Several KPA apparently caught Maj. Henderson off-guard, semi-isolated and beat the crap out him, crushing his larynx and forcing his eventual medi-vac to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

The story about the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Meetings and the flags. At the first MAC meeting, the UNC delegation brought a flag. The North Korean side, lost face, and immediately left. They called another meeting a few days later and when they showed up, they had a flag that was bigger than ours. At the next meeting, we had a flag bigger than theirs. This game kept up until a special MAC meeting had be called just to set the ground rules for the size of the flags, since by now they were to big for the building. It was agreed upon that they had to small enough to sit on the table, but I’m sure of the exact size. Their flag is wider than ours, but ours is longer.  One side has longer fringe along the flag than the other. One side’s flagpole is longer than the other, but the other side has a larger ball top of the flagpole. We have three layers comprising the base of our flagpole, compared to their two, but each layer of theirs is taller than ours. It’s this “bigger is better” mentality that made the height requirement for Americans working at the JSA; the North Koreans don’t have anybody as tall as we are. We also all had to display an ability to control our temper, which probably was part of the reason we acted the way we did once we were off duty, to let off some steam.  I don’t know how many times I was spit on by KPA guards trying to provoke a response from me.  I know that this happened numerous times to others as well.

I suppose at this point I should also make specific mention of our exact mission with the JSA. I mention this because over the years, when I try and relate some of the stories to others, they always ask why we didn’t do this or that. Our primary mission within the JSA was the protection of visitors, both civilian tourists and members of various military organizations, such as the Military Armistice Commission and other visiting dignitaries. Next, whenever we observed any North Korean violation of the armistice, which was practically a daily occurrence, sometimes several times per day, we HAD to document it. Take plenty of pictures, take copious notes on how many, where, what (weapons, tools, explosions), when, who, etc. Next, if there was a violent incident within the JSA, we could only respond with whatever actions we observed, sidearms were only allowed for use if we actually saw one of our own (or somebody we were assigned to protect) in imminent danger of losing their life. After the fact was of no importance, in other words, if somebody was already killed, we still couldn’t use our sidearms unless we actually saw somebody else who’s life was in imminent danger. To minimize the possibility of escalation, we were never allowed the use of weapons to defend ourselves, only others. These “Rules of Engagement” were always drilled into us and we all understood and accepted them.

Playing hopscotch on the Bridge of No Return. Several of us (in 2nd Plt. at least), did this when we worked at CP#3. It was extremely funny watching the reaction of the KPA guards across the bridge when we did this. They’d stare and stare at us with binoculars wondering what the hell us crazy GI’s were doing.

A KPA Guard Truck approaching the KPA checkpoint at the North Korean side of the Bridge of No Return. Visible above the truck is a "farmhouse" that is actually a .51 cal. machine gun position.

I remember getting to visit a South Korean defensive line, kind of behind Camp Liberty Bell if you looked at it from Advance Camp. I believe the South Korean commander of this site was Col. Rhee, since I remember keeping a newspaper article from Pacific Stars and Stripes about his position and responsibilities. The south side looked fairly normal, except for all the trenches and tunnel openings in it. We got the tour of the layout, barracks areas, trench lines, and then up through some tunnels to the north side. That side was practically a cliff, lots of barb wire, claymores, and practically everything else. They even had some old WWII bazookas in there.

Working tower one day (the CP on top of CP#4, our barracks inside the JSA), when I heard a very sharp, distinct crack go by my right ear. The only other time I heard anything close to that sound was during AIT on the infiltration course, with rounds going over our heads.

Going on a (JSA) night patrol.  These were very different from the normal Army patrols. We'd sneak out the side door into the shadows (since much of the JSA was illuminated at night). We'd be wearing our normal JSA uniform and equipment (fatigues, bucko helmets, .45 pistol) with the addition of carrying an axe handle. Actually, they were pick handles, but saying axe was easier than saying pick, and we were just the normal, lazy GI afterall. We'd make the rounds of the South (our) side of the JSA, staying in the shadows as best as we could. Sometimes we'd sneak up close to one of the KPA guardposts and listen. One night we heard snoring, so we crept up real close, pounded on the walls with our axe handles, and ran back to CP#4.  Another night, we were about 30 feet away from CP#4 when some KPA came up with a camera and took our pictures, since they wanted pictures of us carrying our axe handles. We all tried to hide them behind our backs as best as we could, but Sgt. Roach(?) didn't do a very good job, and his was visible, though because of it's positioning, it looked like he was taking a giant shit.  The next day, at a Security Officers Meeting, the KPA produced the picture, and called us "Lt. Zilka's Mad Dogs, who patrol the JSA at night and carry big sticks!".  That was when the 2nd Plt officially became known as the "Mad Dogs", and was a name we were proud of.

 There were the numerous night-time jeep patrols in the JSA as well.  Once in a while, the jeep would go around behind PanMunGak, and if the KPA were on their toes, they'd rush across the road with their boards with nails in them, so they could try and flatten the tires so they could beat an American to a pulp. One night they actually got the boards out in time, but the driver kept going on flat tires, knowing to stop would be extremely foolish and life-threatening.  Another time, a jeep went out to CP#3 at night (which we also closed at night). While the jeep was there, several KPA came out of the shadows, ready for a fight.  The driver pulled his .45 (they were already locked and loaded), reached behind him and opened the gas cap to the jeep and placed the barrel in the tank.  Keeping the gun there, he climbed back in and drove away without incident, but a little wiser.

Our version of “Marionette”, from Mott the Hoople: “Sgt. Roach’s pet, well you better forget it…”

“Our buddy Huddy”.  Okay, okay, I know he hated it, and it was disrespectful, but I still remember it. SFC Huddy was the 2nd Plt., platoon sergeant. SFC Huddy used to be in the Old Guard in DC, the unit that does the Tomb of the Unknowns, and all the other Honor Guard duties. He still had connections there, and anybody from our unit that wanted to be assigned there when DEROS’d Korea could get it.

MSG Blankenship. Blankenship was super stract. He even went so far as to have all of his pockets sewn shut so he wouldn’t be tempted to put his hands in his pockets or even to keep anything in his pockets that would disrupt the starched creases of his uniform. When he left, MSG Blankenship was assigned to West Point as the CSM (Command Sergeant Major).

The weather.  The weather in Korea can be brutal.  After my first winter there, I really had a new level of admiration for all those men who actually had combat duty there during the fighting stage of the Korean War. If you were an infantry soldier, especially with all of the new technology today, there is just no way you are ever going to get warm for at least 3 months. You’ll be subjected to living in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable. Most of the mountains, at least there around our area of the DMZ, seemed to run North-South, and just wound up channeling the winds straight down from Siberia.  I’ve experienced some bitter cold here in the States, but nothing that compared to Korea.  It was also an “unique” experience when we headed up north in the back of an open deuce.  And while I never saw more than about 2-3 inches of snow on the ground at any one time, partly because it was constantly windy, the temperature was always bitter.  During the winters he had these diesel space heaters in our buildings that usually glowed a bright orange. It was miserable after being all nice and warm to venture out into the cold with an empty diesel can and head over to the POL (Petroleum, Oil, and Lubrication) point so we could get a refill. The summers were almost as bad, but at the other extreme.  I remember several times when I was performing honor guard duties for one of the endless tours, and afterwards, when we were allowed to leave, looking down and seeing a puddle of shoe polish where my feet had been.  The monsoons really weren’t that bad, once we got accustomed to them. As I remember, they would start at either 3:00 or 4:00 pm every day (I can’t remember exactly what time.  It was almost like clockwork, they were so reliable. Then the sky would just dump for about 30 minutes, and then it would clear up and become unbelievably humid. The nights there on the DMZ were unbelievable. I’ve been all over the United States, but I’ve never seen a night sky as clear and as bright or full of stars as over there.  Without any lights anywhere close, and no pollution to speak of, it was an amateur astronomers dream.

My 18th birthday. About a month before my birthday, I figured out that we would be on Day QRF that day, which meant we’d be “up North” the day/night before. Since it was “unofficial” SOP that if you were the duty driver “up North” (meaning you were always on call to do any driving), then you got the next day off, I started working on how to get the duty driver position for that day. While this was never written down as SOP, it was always followed. Well, I finally managed to get it, but the next morning when I was expecting to be off, I was informed that I still had to go to QRF. I had other ideas, so instead of breakfast, I showered and changed into civvies REALLY fast, and headed out CP#1 to catch the bus. Went down to I think Camp Pelham, in Sonju-ri, waited for the Class 6 store (liquor store) to open, and bought myself a fifth of Wild Turkey and a fifth of Chivas Regal. I emptied the Chivas in no time, just about an hour, most of it by myself, then I started on the Wild Turkey for the rest of the morning. By the time I was finally done with the Wild Turkey, I could barely sit, let alone stand and walk, but I had to get back to camp because we (the entire unit) were getting our gamma globulin (hepatitis) shots that day. I remember once I did make it back to camp, I fell about 7 or 8 times into the ditch on my way to wherever it was the shots were being given at. I went back downrange afterwards, did my usual Yongu-gol routine of stopping at the turkey bath, followed by the Moon Tea Room and a whore for the night.

Bob Barth. Not especially one of the memories you’d prefer to keep, but if you were there, it’s one that winds up staying with you.  He wasn’t a bad guy at all, but one day things just got to much for him. He was doing pretty good there, and a decent enough guy, sending the bulk of each paycheck back home to support his mother. Since living in Korea was so much cheaper than in the States, he extended so he’d ETS from Korea.  It wasn’t much longer after this that he found out his mother was spending the money he was sending home on drinking and stuff, and he just kind of lost it. He asked for a cancellation of his extension, which was refused, and decided to force the issue. One day he kept a bunch of people, about 5 or 6 I think, hostage in the room across the hall from him with his –16. One of the officers at Advance Camp that day, a Capt. I think, heard what was going on and sneaked in the barracks (actually a Quonset hut, with about 6 ft. high dividers for each “room”). He can see the barrel of the –16 pointing out of one room towards the room across the hall. He sneaks up, grabs the barrel and yanks. Since Barth’s finger is on the trigger, the gun starts going off, spraying bullets everywhere. The officer took one in the meaty part of the thigh, causing no serious damage, and luckily he was the only one injured. It was really amazing, since the entire magazine emptied, and with about 6 guys within 7 or 8 feet of the end of the muzzle, only one bullet hit anybody.  Afterward, I remember looking around and seeing all the bullets holes everywhere, pit marks on the floor, etc, and shaking my head in amazement.  As I remember, Barth wound up getting something like 4 or 5 years at Ft. Leavenworth, KS because of it. A hell of a lot longer than serving out the rest of his time would have been. Several of us talking about it later seem to have agreed that he wasn’t really going to shot anyone, and if the officer had stayed out of it, he eventually would have given up, but such is life. I wasn’t in the barracks when this happened, but I was about 50 ft away, down by where we parked our vehicles in the morning while we had breakfast and got ready for Day QRF.

Day QRF and Night QRF. Our schedule at the time consisted of 24 hours "up North" at the JSA, from 8:00 am one day to 8:00 am the next. Once we left, we headed down to Advance Camp, ate breakfast, showered (if we were fast), had formation, and headed back up north almost to the JSA where we had our Day QRF building. It was between GP Collier (or was it Oulette) and the JSA/NNSC.  We'd do exercises, have training classes, riot control training, clean our weapons, etc to while away the time. Around 4:30 we'd start to head back to Advance Camp, sometimes doing a run all the way. We'd then have 24 hours of off-duty, from 5:00 pm until 5:00 pm the next night.  This allowed us the whole night to get totally drunk, then have most of the next day to completely recover and sober up before we started our tour of night QRF. Night QRF was about the only night any of us ever spent in Advance Camp. While it was about 2 miles of road up to the JSA, we would occasionally have practice alerts to keep us on our toes. At 8:00 the next morning we started our tour "up North" again.

A typical layout of the open duece at the Day QRF site.

June 1976 was a strange month. For 3 Night QRF”S in a row we had had real alerts. June 4th we had a full-scale compound alert, were we had to take our assignments in the bunkers surrounding our Advance Camp. The 7th and 10th we had real Night QRF alerts also. One of these nights, probably the 7th, most of us were sitting around in the NCO club playing spades or otherwise killing time, all dressed in civvies. We rushed out, changed into our fatigues and ran over to the weapons room where we were issued our .45's, M-16's, and ammo. We then had to rush back down to where our vehicles were. After a quick formation to verify body count, we loaded up and headed north. At the entrance to the DMZ was a chain link fence/gate manned by 2nd Div. guys from Camp Liberty Bell. Whoever was working it that night was slow, and almost got nailed by the first deuce as we didn't slow down, but kept it floored all the way to the QRF site. Even with all we had to do, and the drive, we made it to the Day QRF site in 10 minutes and change. It set a new record for Night QRF response, though it was going to be short-lived. After the "tree incident", night QRF became mandatory fatigues, gear and weapons.

 July 4th, 1976. The 200th Anniversary of America.  Somehow I was chosen to be one of the guys that that got to participate in our unit’s official celebration.  I had a handmade (from the tailor shop on base) Revolutionary War uniform and was part of the Honor Guard.  After I DEROS’d Korea and was stationed at Ft. Dix, NJ, the CO called me into his office one day and presented me with a tube.  Inside the tube was one of the blank artillery shells fired that day. It was “Number 37 out of 50 fired in celebration of our nations Bi-Centennial, Camp Kitty Hawk, Korea”. Makes a really neat souvenir, though being brass it’s a pain to keep clean and shiny.

 It was neat working OP#5 during the early spring, right near dusk. The South Koreans, in preparation for the spring planting of rice, would burn all of the rice stalks in the dried up rice paddies, and it made a wall of flame that was really neat to see.

 Anybody ever remember watching the TV show “HeeHaw”, with that big ole hound dog that always seemed to sleeping on the porch? I think it was 3rd Plt. that one exactly like it.  One day it wound up getting hit by a deuce and killed.  The guys headed out and buried it. Shortly after they left, the Koreans were over there with their own shovels digging it back up for fresh meat.

 Riding the Kimchi bus downrange during the summer.  In order to leave our camp and go downrange, we had to ride the bus down to Munsan, where we could then catch a taxi to take us wherever we wanted to go.  During the winter, this wasn’t too bad. During the summer, it was quite an olfactory experience!  The bus would stop all along the way (after we crossed Freedom Bridge), and pick up the Koreans who had just called it day of working in the rice paddies.  To begin with, the aroma of kimchi really became strong.  Next, imagine if you will, the aroma of 30 or more people who had been working in the rice paddies planting or harvesting rice all day.  Remember, in Korea very little is wasted, even waste, so to help fertilize the rice paddies, human waste is collected and spread around. Add to this the fact that these people really worked hard, sweating up a storm all day, and you can begin to appreciate the aroma.

 The chestnut trees by our barracks. I remember seeing all these green porcupine looking things up in the trees.  One day near the end of summer, several of the KATUSA’s start tossing their ax handles up into the tree, knocking some of them down. They wander over to the ones that fell, place the inside edges of their boots on them, and kind of step down a bit, peeling the outside porcupine looking stuff off. They then pick up the inside and start eating it. When I ask what it is, they say it’s chestnuts, so I start doing it also. Not really sure if they really were chestnuts or not, but they sure tasted good.

 The Turkey Bath!  One of my favorite things to do in Yongu-gol.  You go in, pick a girl, then you both go to your room, which was really a “bath” room, all tiled, etc. You strip down, hop in the tub and relax for awhile.  Then you hop out and sit on a stool and the girl soaps you down, scrubbing, etc. Then she douses you with buckets of water to get you rinsed off, then you hop up on a table and she gives you an excellent all over body massage, with special emphasis on the one remaining place with any tension, which she’d relieve most expertly. A bargain at only $10.

 The endless tours to the JSA, and the ensuing honor guard for them, to protect the tourists from the KPA (who would sometimes try and steal various items from the tourists, especially cameras).  Not meaning to sound racist or anything, but by far the worst were the tours full of Orientals (the country of origin made no difference).  This was because it seemed like every person had at least one camera, and each person HAD to have their picture taken (at least once by themselves, then alone each only one of each of their friends, then with only two friends, etc.) with them standing next to an American GI.  Sometimes I'd swear that my picture has to reside in about half of all the households in Asia. Considering that we handled around 6-7 tours a day, around 50 people per tour, that’s roughly 300 people a day. If only half of them were oriental, that’s still 150. With an average of 3 pictures each, that’s around 450 pictures in one day. Figure roughly seven times a month that happened, over a 13 month period, that’s almost 41,000 pictures!

Also during the tours, when the tourists were inside the MAC meeting room, we had to stand guard at all of the open windows. If we didn’t, sometimes a Joe would try to reach through and grab something from one of the tourists.  Sometimes this led to little shoving matches outside the windows, as we’d be standing there at parade rest, arms (actually elbows) extended as far as we could get them, so we’d occupy as much of the window as possible.  Even still, Joe would come down to “observe” the tour, and try and squeeze by us so they could get up next to the open window.

One day when we had a tour in the area, I was working tower above CP#4.  When the tour group entered the MAC building, the Joe’s up at KPA#1 started yelling various things at me.  I walked outside and onto the roof so I could try and hear what they were saying. About this time, the tour group left the MAC building and headed across the street to the Freedom House Pagoda for pictures of the area. I started mumbling to myself, narely audible to even me, “Aw you little communist pukes, why don’t you go piss up a rope’, “Go wipe your ass with Father Kim ass-wipe”, and various other assorted goodies.  After the tour left our immediate AO by the buildings, and headed up to OP#5 for more pictures, our honor guard stood around relaxing in near their areas waiting for the bus’ return trip, so they could salute as the bus went by again.  After the bus finally left and the honor guard dispersed and headed back into CP#4, a temporary relief came up for me so I could go downstairs and see SSG ? (our assistant platoon sergeant).  He chewed my butt out good, though he did laugh a bit, saying next time I’m up there with a tour in the area, just keep my mouth shut, as the wind and air conditions were just right, and though it was soft, everything I said had carried down clearly to the tour area.

The layout of the JSA. Most peoples impression of the JSA is from the pictures they see from either the top of CP#4 looking down the road in front of the buildings, from the Freedom House pagoda looking between the buildings towards PanMunGak, or the before, during or after pictures from OP#5 looking down towards CP#3 and the tree. What most people don’t realize is that the area around CP#3 is very low.

The southern edge of The Bridge of No Return. The downward slope visible is typical of the entire area in this part of the JSA.

Where the checkpoint and the roads are, is actually a built-up area, about 15-20 feet above the rest of the area. What appears to be area of scrub brush are actually tree tops in the lower areas. During the summer, when trees and everything else are green and growing, there is only one manned US/ROK position that can see CP#3, and that’s from OP#5 which is on top of a hill. At that time, visibility between OP#5 and CP#3 was beginning to be obstructed by the tree branches, and many times, whoever was working at CP#3 literally had their lives depending on the guys at OP#5. CP#2 at the entrance to the JSA can see the top of CP#3, but that’s about it. Even during the winter months when all the leaves are gone (and the sky is gray), visibility is not very good from CP#2. Because of this, the KPA built KPA#5 along the access road to CP#3 and placed a barrier gate there. After KPA#5 was built, the US side built an egress road (just a dirt road), from CP#3 directly over to CP#2.  Shortly after this, the KPA built KPA#8 with another barrier gate. With the ability to effectively stop, or at least slow down traffic to and from CP#3, the KPA would occasionally go over to CP#3 with impunity. Sometimes, if it was only one or two guards, the KPA would enter into negotiations with the GI at CP#3 (all US checkpoints were manned by a GI and a KATUSA), and sometimes the KATUSA would help translate. Most of the time the negotiations were for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. The KPA seemed to prize these over practically everything else. I know several guys who managed to get various “souvenirs” this way, North Korean postcards, magazines, Kim Il Sung buttons, and one guy actually managed to get a Kim Il Sung Communist Party Member badge.  Most KPA guards only had a little round pin/badge with a picture of Kim Il Sung on it. A few of the really hardcore guards who managed to impress their superiors somehow (through “incidents” with Americans, ratting on others who failed somehow to maintain their assigned communist standards, etc), would have the Kim Il Sung picture place on the right side of a red rectangle, signifying that they were official members of the communist party in good standing with their superiors. This was a highly prized and highly protected part of their uniform. For one to trade one to a GI meant he had to steal it from somebody else, probably somebody he hated, as there were very “severe” punishments to anybody who lost theirs. Anyway, sometimes the KPA would go to CP#3 in a group of three or more. This was always a dead give away that some trouble was in the works. The KPA never attempted any incidents in the JSA unless they had at least a 3-1 majority. Usually when this happened at CP#3, it meant they were going to attempt to grab our people there so they take them across the Bridge and use them as propaganda tools. The actual boundary of the JSA was only about halfway across the bridge. Once you passed that point, you were officially on the North Korean side of the DMZ and there was nothing we could do except wait the for the politicians to resolve the issue.

PanMunGak itself.

This is the major focal of the North Korean side. From the front, it does look kind of impressive, but if you look at from the side, it’s only like 10 feet wide, hence the reason they always keep the drapes closed, so it looks more impressive than it really is. Like most things the North Koreans have visible within sight of South Korea, it’s purely for show.

Writing my nickname (Ichabod) in the cement along the side of OP#5 next to the spotting binoculars, when they had to pour some fresh cement up there one day.

The Imjim Bridge (Freedom Bridge). Nobody was allowed across the bridge unless they worked north of the river, or were on an authorized tour. I remember seeing all the bullet holes in the steel supports of the bridge, left over reminders of the Korean War and the fighting that must have taken place over the bridge, since it was the only one still standing. The other bridge next to it was destroyed during the war, while this one was always wired with explosives with standing orders that 10(?) minutes after hostilities, it got blown, no matter who or what was on it. American and ROK MP's had to check the ID's of everybody on every vehicle crossing the bridge. About 150-200 meters away from Freedom Bridge were the cement supports to another bridge that got blown up during the Korean War. One of the supports leaned way over to, and I kept wondering when it was going to fall. The top was probably about 5 feet off the center line, and the top of the support itself was anywhere from probably 30-50 ft above the water, depending on the tide, since the river was very tidal and changed levels at least twice a day.  I remember this one KATUSA who’d work at the bridge occasionally, and I always laughed when I saw him.  He always looked serious and professional, but his head only occupied the front half of his helmet liner.  The back half of the helmet liner just stuck out there hanging over open air.

All of the endless KPA tours, and there arrival at KPA#1 and then chanting all of their anti-American slogans and with their signs (though they didn’t have near as many tours as we did). "Yankee ganster, leave Korea for Koreans", "Yankee go home", and numerous other variations. I really remember when right after the fall of Angola, a large and very vocal crowd of Angolans showed up for a tour. They ranted and raved for a real long time before finally leaving.  I was working tower that day, our tiny little post on top of CP#4, it had a steel trapdoor so we could climb up from the barracks area, but was about the size of an outhouse, though it did have an outside door so we could walk around on the roof.

The "story", passed on from the Swiss-Swede delegation that before each KPA tour, they would stop and visit the KPA "museum" (where the armistice was actually signed), and show all of the "tourists" pictures of the Korean War. American GI's killing North Korean babies, American GI's eating North Korean babies, and many other re-touched photos. I don’t know of anybody that can verify this, since it was outside of the JSA and in the North Korean part of the DMZ, but that’s what we were all told.

All that remains of the "real" village of Pan Mun Jom. This is the building where the actual Armistice was signed. Notice the little bare area between the smokestacks. This is a KPA artillery position I observed being built that year.

The change out of platoons at the JSA. Though it is now gone, (since shortly after the "tree incident"), just inside the southern boundary of the JSA was KPA#7.  Just outside of the southern boundary of the JSA was CP#2. Since we were limited on the number of armed guards we could have within the JSA at any time to 30 enlisted and 5 officers, the changing of platoons required a shuffling of people back and forth. When the relieving platoon arrived, they would park and wait at CP#2. Duty assignments were already drawn up, so we knew who had what shift on what checkpoint, and the first shifters would start getting shuttled out to their checkpoints. The guys working CP#2 had to keep close tabs on the number of people inside so we didn’t go over the limit. Two guys, in, 29 total, three guys out, back down to 26, two more back in, etc. until all of the checkpoints were relieved by the new platoon. The platoon leaving would then load everybody in their deuces and drive out. Then the relieving platoon would drive in. Each platoon had two deuces, one with the canvas cover and one without. Most of the time, the open deuce was occupied by the guys on first shift, and the covered deuce was everybody else, so the KPA couldn’t count how many people we had. The KPA would stand around on both sides of the road and try to get a count of how many people were inside the JSA. If the driver of the deuce was good enough, he'd dog it upon entering the JSA, giving it extra gas (diesel) while shifting into neutral, then punching it when shifting into second.  If everything worked right, the KPA trying to look into the back of the deuce was enveloped in a huge cloud of black diesel exhaust. 

KPA#7 (like all KPA guardposts in the southern half of the JSA) was strictly a daytime guardpost. Once darkness fell, they shut it down and brought everybody back to their side.  It was an elevated guardpost, sitting about 6 feet above the ground. Ssomewhere at home, I have one of the tiles that used to be on the outside, having gathered it after it was torn down.  Anyway, sometimes, we'd "sabotage" (or play mind games with) KPA#7.  If it was winter, sometimes we'd go over there at night and pour water on the doors, windows, and/or steps. Sometimes we'd even tie some fishing line across the top of the steps.  One time when it was done, and I was actually innocent that time, the KPA couldn't open the doors in the morning. They sent the guard truck back to PanMunGak, and the truck arrived back shortly.  They then carried a bucket of hot water up the steps, threw it on the doors and windows, and the glass broke!  All that day they got to sit and shiver while the freezing cold wind howled around.  Another time during the summer, I went over and smeared Vaseline on the door handle.  The next morning when they went to open up, it was hilarious watching them try to grab the handle and turn it.

Anybody remember that one softball game at the field between Kitty Hawk and Liberty Bell? I remember a guy from Liberty Bell hit the ball way out to left field, where Benningfield was. By the time Benningfield got to the ball, the batter had got to third base and was starting to head home. Benningfield flung that ball all the way to home, beating the runner, and the ball never went higher than 8 ft off the ground! Practically a line drive all the way from the fence to home plate.

Watching the KPA guards hit the edge of their hand on the corner of the buildings.  Each day, they had to do it something like 500 times, to build up calluses on the edge and show that they were good commies for Father Kim.  They did have huge hands because of it, but it didn't buy any intelligence points from me. Not quite sure what the requirements are now, but during our time, in order to be a KPA guard at the JSA, they had to be orphans whose parents died close to the Korean War time-frame. They were then brought up being told that their parents had been killed by Americans during the war, so they would foster a good hatred of Americans.  I eventually had one of the KATUSA's in our unit teach me a little sentence (which I've forgotten how to say now), so when we were close enough to whisper I'd say "Tomorrow night I'm going to f____ your sister.".

Turtle Parties!  They were a great boost for platoon morale! Once a month we'd have one. Burgers and buns were supplied by the mess hall, so we could have a barbecue. If anybody was promoted, they had to buy/supply a case of beer for each grade (i.e., if they got promoted to Sp/4 (E-4), they'd but 4 cases of beer). Plenty of booze was supplied by everybody else.  We'd start by drinking out those who were ready to leave and go back Stateside. They'd get their Turtle Cups, Sterling Silver cups with their name, dates of service, and the unit badge on them. 

My "Turtle Cup"

The cups were filled with a mixture of everything available. We'd all start singing

"Here's to brother (name) who’s with us tonight.

He's happy, he's jolly, he eats it by golly!

So here's to brother (name) who's with us tonight"

Then he would have to chug it all down non-stop or suffer a penalty drink (by repeating it again) while we all chanted "Drink mother-f____, Drink mother-f____".  After the old guys were done, then we drank in the new guys (the "turtles") in a repeat of before. Of course, these were always done on our night off, since afterwards nobody was sober enough to do anything; we were barely able to make it back to our hooch, let alone attempt to go downrange. We also had a song that went

“Drunk last night,

drunk the night before,

gonna get drunk tonight

like I’ve never been drunk before,

‘cause if we are drunk,

we’re as happy as can be,

‘cause we are members of the Joint Security,

we got the K-P-A,

The R-O-K,

PanMumJom is A-okay!”

Especially for a young kid like I was, those 13 months left an indelible mark on me. I'm proud of being able to be there, of being part of history, no matter how regrettable it may have turned out. I'm proud of the way we handled ourselves, proud and professional (usually), and always up to the task. I'm proud to have known so many great people, the other people who I got to meet, such as Gen. Singlaub and Gen. Stillwell, and the awards I received. I'm deeply saddened though by the loss of Capt. Bonifas and my inability to ever do anything about it of any consequence. I'm saddened by the thought of not seeing some of the best friends I ever had again. Many KATUSA's, like Lee W.D. and Huh J. B. I boxed him (Huh J.B.) one day at QRF. He literally used me as a punching bag. He was built like that Chinese bad guy you see on a lot of movies, short and massive. I did manage to in one good punch to his jaw, and he just looked at me and said "Good punch Pergie.".

One night, a bunch of us headed downrange on the same bus, even a couple of the KATUSA’s got on the bus, which they rarely did since they never had much money. We stopped at Camp Greaves and picked up some guys from 2nd D who were already pretty drunk. After we crossed the bridge, one of them got real loud and obnoxious, started saying things about Koreans, and insulting our KATUSA’s. They pretty much ignored him, which made him more obnoxious, he reached back and knocked the hat off of one. Every GI from our unit stood instantly, and the closest ones started beating the crap of the guy. The rest of us told the buddies of the other guy to stay out of it, and the little Korean gal that collected money from everybody for the bus fare was yelling and screaming. The bus driver pulled the bus over, stopped, and opened the door. The drunk, obnoxious guy was literally thrown out of the bus, the door shut, and the bus driver drove away. Somebody grabbed the guy’s hat and threw it out the window at him. None of us were looking for a fight, we weren’t drunk or had even started drinking yet, and he wasn’t even one of the KATUSA’s that was fairly well liked, but he was part of our unit. It was a simply a matter of pride, respect, and survival; we were a small unit and we had to be able to depend on each other, mess with one of us, and you messed with all of us.

I remember the Romance Tea Room, Moon Tea Room, lots of times drinking Oscar, and the Romilar and Codeine mixers (drinking two bottles of Codeine with a Romilar chaser would give you a good buzz for about 8 hours), and Gin-Ro (Soju) mixed with Orange Fanta. One day, I stepped outside of the Romance Tea Room in Yongu-gol, and a ROK jeep came zooming by and ran over my foot.  Didn't hurt, but it pissed me off, and when I complained to a ROK officer, he beat the hell out of the driver, who then apologized to me.

Finally, what kind of Korean recollection would be complete without a mention of the women?  But, in order to adequately explain this (mainly for people who weren’t there), an explanation of cultures is required.

First, in the Korean culture, especially for the poor farming areas, girls are pretty much useless. The father has pay a dowry to get them married and they contribute very little to the family income.  At the time, the average Korean FAMILY only made about $150.00 per YEAR! So, if a family was on really hard times, the father would sell a daughter to a mama-san.  The mama-san would then take full responsibility for the girl, education, clothing, feeding, housing, medical, etc. BUT, once mama-san decided that the girl was old enough, the girl would have to start paying mama-san back for all the money spent, plus interest, by “catering” to the needs of American servicemen stationed thousands of miles from home and no chance at all of ever being lucky enough to get laid by one of the few “round-eye” (American) women in Korea.  Most girls in this situation in Korea usually started around 16 and continued until they either paid their debt or were no longer attractive enough to generate any more revenue for mama-san.  A few lucky girls would manage to get a GI to marry them and pay off the debt to mama-san. Another thing to keep in mind about Korean culture mentality, at least at the time, was pureness of the bloodline.  Koreans were very proud of their “pure” bloodline, and could document it easily through village documents, where births, marriages, deaths, etc. were recorded. However, once a girl was “associated” with a GI, her name was stricken as if she never existed.  Part of this mentality I think had to do with how many times the Koreans had been invaded and/or conquered over the centuries.  While they may have been conquered and occupied many times, with many of their women being forced into sexual slavery as the spoils of war, most Korean families could still document “pure” Korean bloodlines.

At the time, you could procure a “short-time” for $5.00. An “overnight” was $10.00. You could also, if you wished, procure a “yobo” for anywhere from $100 - $150 a month. Once the money was paid to the girl, she was yours for the duration of the time period, supplying your food, drinks, sexual favors, etc. In our unit, since we had every 3rd night off, theoretically (if somebody got a different girl each off night), we had the opportunity to sleep with around 130 girls during our 13-month tour. Many guys did, others would stay with a small select group of favorites, and a few would just stay with one or two “yobo’s” for the duration.


The Aug. 18th through 21st time period:


First, I’m going to start with something out of context (as to the time-frame of my recollection); it wasn’t relayed to me until the night of probably the the 20th, but I think that it’s somewhere in this time period that I was talking with some of the guys from 1st Plt. who were in the fight.  This is what they related (which differs quite a bit from the official Army version):

They started out with everything nice and peaceful. I think it was 9 enlisted men and three officers, 2 American officers, Capt. Bonifas (who only had 5 days left in country), Lt. Barrett (who’d just become the 1st. Plt. Platoon leader a few weeks earlier, his South Korean counterpart who’s name I can’t remember, and I think it was either 3 or 5 Korean Service Corps workers. Then Lt. Bulldog (our name for him, he was always an instigator) and several other KPA guards arrive in a guard truck.  He asked Capt. Bonifas what was going on and Capt. Bonifas said that they were trimming the lower branches of the tree. Lt. Bulldog agreed that that was a good idea. They stood around observing for around 15 minutes, during which time the KSC workers were getting visibly nervous.  Lt. Bulldog called one his men over, spoke to him, and the guard left with the guard truck. Shortly afterwards, two more guard trucks show up and around 25 more KPA guards pile out. This should have been the first major red flag, as this gave the KPA more than their customary 3-1 superiority ratio before any “incident”.  (In several pictures of the fight, more than 30 KPA guards can be observed, and several more are outside of the picture area). Lt. Bulldog removes his watch, wraps it in a handkerchief, and places it in his pocket. During this time, the additional KPA guards begin spreading around, except for a small group that remains by the back of the trucks. Lt. Bulldog looks around (probably to verify that everybody is in place), yells out something like “Kill them”, and gives Capt. Bonifas a karate chop to the base of the skull, probably killing him instantly.  They said the next few minutes were a wild melee. At the start, the KSC workers drop their axes and saws that they were trimming the branches with, and run.  Several KPA guards pick these up, and the other guards at the back of the KPA guard trucks reach in and grab axe handles and pikes (they did not bring any axes of their own). One of the GI’s reaches into the back of the deuce and grabs an axe handle, swings around, and catches a KPA guard (who was looking the other way) right alongside of the temple and he collapses like a bag of cement. He grabs a couple more axe handles and passes them out to other JSA personnel.  Everybody (JSA personnel) starts to gather back together near the back of the deuce. Nobody knows what happened to Lt. Barrett, he’s nowhere to be seen (Later, after all the pictures are developed, he’s seen jumping over a retaining wall and heading down into the depression area between CP#3 and KPA#8).  As people are climbing into the back of the deuce, and getting Capt. Bonifas’ body loaded up as well, several KPA guards try to grab them and pull them back out. Several guys beat some of them back with axe handles. Another KPA guard tries to climb into the deuce as well. One GI picks up a fire extinguisher, fires it into the KPA guards face, and when it’s empty, he picks it up over his head and throws it right at the KPA guard, catching him square in the forehead and snapping his head back. Finally, after every visible friendly is accounted for, both deuces (the one that carried the KSC workers and their security force, and the one that stayed with the regular CP#3 guards) leave the area and regroup. Lt. Barrett is missing, nobody can see him anywhere, and the guys who are up at OP#5 who first reported and filmed everything, have no idea where he’s at either.  They say that after our personnel left, the Joe’s drag around 5 KPA bodies across the Bridge by picking up their heels (which they probably wouldn’t do if they were alive).  Several other limp bodies are loaded into the KPA guard trucks, extent of injuries unknown. They stay on heightened alert for all KPA activity and for any sign of Lt. Barrett. They notice that the KPA guards at KPA#8 are taking turns going down into the depression between their checkpoint and CP#3. They stay a few minutes, come back up, and hand the axe to another guard, who then goes down into the depression. They say that after about an hour or so of this, they become just to suspicious and a jeep full of JSA personnel heads out to investigate. They head down into the depression and find what’s left of Lt. Barrett, though somehow he’s still alive. He’s immediately removed and medi-vac’d, but dies enroute.

End of unverified story as relayed to me by several 1st. Plt. members who were there. Taken in the context of the time, I have no reason to doubt anything they related to me. We were all pretty depressed, itching for payback, and lies or braggadocio would have been to easy to expose due to the amount of people involved and the pictures taken.

I remember when the alert first sounded. It was our off day, and I was downrange drinking in Sonju-Ri with a buddy. We asked an MP what was going on, and he said there was a fight at the JSA. We went to grab a taxi, and drove to Munsan so we could catch the next bus north. When we got to Freedom Bridge, we asked the MP checking ID's for further news. He said that a couple people were hurt real bad, maybe dead, up at the JSA. During the ride up, I kept thinking to myself “Damnit. We were supposed to be the ones up there. They were supposed to trim the tree last week when we were up there!”. (I forget what the reason was, but for some reason, the original scheduled day for the tree trimming was delayed, from August 13th and instead it turned into a Security Officers Meeting.. Our Platoon was supposed to be the ones working the JSA on the original date.) An hour later (after the alert first sounded) we finally arrived at camp and were told by the gate guards at CP#1 when we arrived to get full field gear on, Capt. Bonifas was dead, several guys from 1st platoon were injured, and Lt. Barrett was missing.

A few hours later we were informed that they had recovered the body of Lt. Barret. He was found in the depression between CP#3 and KPA#8, cut to pieces by KPA guards who took turns for over an hour, going down into the depression with an axe, only to return later and hand the axe to another guard who would then disappear into the depression for awhile. Later that night I was in the NCO club and talking with one of the guys from 3rd Plt, who were on QRF that day. He was pissed, saying the whole time during the fight they sat at CP#2, while their Lt. waited for orders from Capt. Bonifas (who was already dead) to head into the JSA and provide help. This has always been neglected in every account I've ever read!  Some accounts state that the QRF was a mile away, outside the DMZ, when the daytime QRF was only about 200 yards from CP#2, well inside the DMZ and almost within the JSA! General Singlaub's book gives the impression that the QRF actually made it to the scene of the fighting, which it didn't.  Talking with several other members of 3rd Plt. that night seemed to verify the story. They all said that they waited around at CP#2 for their Lt. to receive authorization from Capt. Bonifas to enter.

Having the SGM call me into LTC Vierra's office after the "tree incident". My dad was in the Air Force, at Lakenheath Air Base in England. When he first heard what had happened, he "commandeered" secure communication channels to give LTC Vierra a call and find out if I was okay. I also remember that almost a year later, going down to visit Mark Luttrull in DC. While I was there, we went over to the Pentagon and visited with Col. Vierra for awhile.

The 19th is fairly fuzzy. I believe we headed north that morning, same as if nothing had interfered with our normal routine, except of course, no tours were going to be allowed for awhile. Duty was really weird. I remember how I looked at the guys from 1st Plt. who we were relieving. Not in shame at not protecting the officers, but kind of, in a way, proud, that even with all that happened yesterday, they held it together and we weren’t at war, at least not yet. Looking at the calendar I kept while I was there (where I’d note memorable events, etc.), we had a Security Officers meeting and the 379th MAC meeting that day. Usually, for MAC meetings, we dressed up our Class A’s, but this was the first time we ever performed our normal honor guard routine for a MAC Meeting in fatigues. Sitting there in the checkpoints, I remember watching the Joe’s, wondering to myself “Were you one of the sons-a-bitches, you little communist puke?”

The 20th isn’t that much clearer. Originally, it was planned to cut the tree down today, but for whatever reasons, it’s delayed. We headed south to Advance Camp for breakfast, then back up north to the Day QRF site. Things were much more subdued than they usually were at QRF. We all knew we (the US of A), had to do something. We knew that the tree had to come down, as now it was a standing symbol of (another) the KPA attempting to humiliate us. We knew plans were in the works to accomplish that, but we didn’t know what else was in the plans, though we hoped that we’d get a chance to avenge our unit, our pride, and our fallen officers. Though he didn’t associate with us enlisted men that much, Capt. Bonifas did make it point to go around occasionally and visit with the men. For those of us that did correspondence courses, when the results came back, he’d always a little note with it before relaying the results to us. A bunch of small little things, but things that more or less let us know that he did care about us and our welfare.  There wasn’t as much grab-ass as usual, more attention to detail, especially weapons maintenance. Some scattered talk and guesses about when the balloon was going to go up. I don’t remember anybody talking about not being there, just how much everybody wanted to be right in the front, when and if anything else started. There was also some scattered talk about a couple of our KATUSA’s, which one’s we could trust and which ones we couldn’t. Huh J.B and Lee W.D. were two of the ones we all knew we could trust. There were also a couple others we all knew we couldn’t, like the one who a month or so earlier at CP#3 revealed his true leanings. The GI and KATUSA were at CP#3 when it was surrounded by KPA guards. The GI locked the doors and got on the landline to CP#4 to let them know and request extraction help. The KATUSA looked at him when he got off the phone, and said “What’s wrong GI? You scared? Mos-tic you die, me go North Korea.” (mos-tic is Korean for “pretty soon”, not sure of actual spelling or pronunciation now though.) I can’t remember who the GI was, but for some reason I think that maybe it was Exum. I know several of us were wondering how prophetic that statement was, did he have an inside line on what was going on? A few guys were wrote letters back home. Most guys, myself included, didn’t have a girlfriend or wife back home, so we didn’t really care. That night, like the other two previous nights, sleep was sparse and fitful. Anything woke me up, crickets chirping, an engine running, a door opening or closing, a gust of wind.

The 21st. We woke early. We have a Platoon meeting with Lt. Ankley and SFC Huddy, where we receive our Op Order. The tree was going to come down, and we were going to lead what was going to be called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, part of “Task Force Vierra”. The way It was explained, it sounded like it was going to be the most carefully staged and concentrated display of power since D-Day in WWII. We were going in with flak jackets, axe handles and our .45’s (which were basically useless at anything over 10 meters away, as worn out as the barrel bushings and the barrels were). We would be supported by ROK Special Forces, who had already infiltrated the JSA and taken up hidden defensive positions to cover us. We were also going to have a couple truckloads of ROK Marines with us, attired as we were, with the same weapon limits. We were going to provide security for an Engineer team who were going to cut the tree down and also pull out some barriers the KPA had along access roads. Other elements From Camp Liberty Bell would join us inside the JSA, but as they were primarily a fighting force, and we were primarily Security Guards, they’d be were they could do the most harm (to the enemy), setting up defensive positions outside of the JSA. We were told that every unit in country was “cocked and locked”, all barrels full, with fingers on the trigger. We would also be supported by Huey’s and Cobra’s, F-111’s, and B-52’s. If Joe wanted an “incident”, we’d give him one to remember for a long time to come.

After the briefing, we had to ready ourselves and our equipment. It was like a daze to me, somehow knowing that it was real, but seeming unreal. Many of us “augmented” our uniform with silly things, knives, extra shoestrings, socks with rocks in them, etc. If there was the slightest chance that we somehow survived, we at least wanted some kind of a fighting chance to not become prisoners without a fight. I think all of us vowed to ourselves to save one bullet if it came to that, as we all thought that we were truly going to war and that was our last morning. We slowly started gathering near our vehicles, since we still had time to spare, getting in a few more smokes while we still could, thinking our own private thoughts and saying our prayers before we had to concentrate exclusively on the mission. The other forces that were going to accompany us were gathering up and getting organized as well, but each group kind of kept to themselves and who they knew. Daylight allows us to see through the fence, and we can see that the guys at Liberty Bell are getting ready also, they’ll follow us into the Z and most of the way to the JSA, before they break off to take up their positions. We all double- and triple-check ourselves and each other, have we forgotten anything, everything secured and tied up so it won’t fall off, get lost or get in the way?

Around 0600 hours.  The tension level is literally so thick it’s something you can really touch, taste, and feel. I always read about it, but this is my first experience with it. I always thought it something invented by a writer with a flair for words. Now that it’s here, I know better. Once again I’ve learned something new in the last few days, and matured even more. We form up, practice our actions at the tree, form up again. Final formation, final orders. Order of movement is repeated again, expected actions (and reactions) are repeated again. While I know the animals (birds and others) were making their normal sounds, it’s drowned out by all of the vehicle noise. There are more vehicles up here than there’s ever been since I was here.

Around 0640 hours.  We’re loaded and rolling out the gate of CP#1. There’s a weird look about they guys that stay behind at Advance Camp, kind of like depression. Everybody in the unit wants to go, nobody wants to be stuck in the rear, cooks, mechanics, signalmen, clerks all want to be were they can accomplish something that might help even the score. Two things keep going through my head, the old Indian guy in “Little Big Man” saying “Today is a good day to die”, and the song “Paint Your Wagon”, from the movie of the same with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood., “Where am I going I don’t know, when will I get there, I ain’t certain, all I know is I am on my way”. I’m thinking “If I have to die today, I couldn’t be with a better bunch of people. I’m proud to be with them, and I hope I make them proud as well.”. As the convoy rolled out, I was looking all around, up north to see if there was any activity yet, behind us, all I could see was a line of jeeps, deuces, and gamma goats as far as I could see. As we near the Day QRF site, most of the vehicles from 2nd Div begin to pull over and get in their defensive positions, setting up TOW’s, machineguns, and everything else.

0700 hours. We roll into the JSA. The KPA can officially see us. Normally, they’d just be getting ready to open up KPA#7 and 8, but today was planned to minimize contact and we arrive about 45 minutes earlier than usual, so those checkpoints aren’t manned yet. The KPA guards across the Bridge don’t see us until we are almost to the tree. PFC Exum pulls up next to CP#3 and we jump out of the back of the deuce, When we are all out, he backs it up onto the bridge, preventing any vehicles from crossing, The rest of the vehicles are right behind us, everybody un-assing the trucks before they even stop. The dumptruck with the engineers pulls up next to the tree, so they can stand on it instead of having to use a ladder. The ROK’s with us, who are “supposed to” be limited as we are, with just .45’s and axe handles, begin throwing sandbags out of their deuces, Under the sandbags they have M-16’s, M-60’s, and a few M-79’s. Several f them head over to Exum’s deuce and stand around watching the KPA guards across the bridge. I’m on the detachment that’s facing north, and I can see the 4 guards over there frantically running about and trying to get a hold of a superior on the phone. I look over at KP#3, a North Korean checkpoint just outside of the JSA and situated up on a hill, and I can see the guards up there run outside with a machinegun and set it up covering us. About two minutes later, a bunch of the KPA guard trucks and several buses pull up across the bridge from us. It seems like they sit there forever, several minutes at least. A few of the ROK marines with us unbutton their shirts, showing that they have claymore mines strapped to their chests and they have the clacker (firing mechanism) in their hands. They start yelling and waving at the KPA to come on over. One of the ROK’s is laying on his side, on the ground, supporting his head his his hand, looking all casual and care free. Once in a while he lifts his head a bit and hits the rear tire of Exum’s deuce with the back of his fist, shaking the entire truck bed. Anybody who’s ever been on a deuce knows that’s not easy.

Somebody tells me LTC Vierra just gave an order on the radio and I look back. Our supporting helicopters rise up on line above the horizon, giving the North Koreans a perfect view of their amassed firepower. The line of choppers seems to stretch for over a mile. Upon seeing this, the North Koreans unload their vehicles and scatter along their side of the dike that is along the river. They set up in two-man groups, signifying that most of them are machinegun positions.

There I am, close to two million people stretched all along the DMZ and who knows how many tens of thousands within probably three miles of where we are at, nukes in the air (aboard B-52’s), who knows how much artillery from both sides concentrated on our location, crazy guys with mines on their chest yelling at the North Koreans to come on over, KPA less than 100 meters away with machineguns and AK-47’s trained on us, and me and my buddies are standing around with axe handles and .45’s. I’m looking north at all of the various North Korean bunkers I know about, the ones pointed out to me, and the ones I’ve watched being built during the last year, expecting at any moment I’ll see a puff of smoke and flame, the signal that their artillery has fired. It’s almost laughable, probably would be in a movie, but all I’m thinking now is that I hope I can take a couple (KPA) with me. Kind of reminds me of that the poster with an eagle and the mouse giving him the finger, “The Last Great Act of Defiance.”

I forget exactly when the first branch goes down, before or after the choppers raise up, but I vividly remember the crash it made as it fell on the dump truck, and the cheers we all made. Raising our axe handles and yelling. The engineers begin working on the next branch, it’s a massive tree. Many of the ROK’s, seeing that the KPA aren’t going to respond, start to head over to KPA#5 and 8 and break in. They ransack the places, breaking everything they can, smashing windows, doors, the works. I can see the barriers laying on the ground, yanked out by the engineers.

I’m not sure how long all this takes, time seems distorted. Some things appear to be in slow motion, and other things seem to happen faster than my eyes and brain can register them. At any rate, I’m now beginning to relax and the adrenaline rush is wearing off. If Joe was going to do anything, it would have happened by now.

The last branch comes down and the engineers start to cut some of the branches into smaller, more manageable chunks so they can be loaded up and taken away as souvenirs. Most of the tree I think stays behind, it’s just to damn big and heavy to haul away at that time. What’s left of the tree is still pretty massive in it’s own right. Depending on which way you look at it, from the road it looks like the trunk is still about 10 feet high. If you look at it from OP#5, where you can see where it starts, it’s more around 15 feet high. Where the branches were cut, each of the three branches are close to two feet across. Near the base of the tree, the diameter is over three feet.

As I remember, the engineers are the first to leave. I see movement down by the riverbed, and I see a bunch of ROK special forces guys coming up out of the depressions. It seems like several hundred of them. They were the ones that infiltrated the night before, and I had no idea they were down there. They load up on the trucks with the ROK marines and leave. Finally, our group gets to load up and leave. I remember looking back at what’s left of the tree and thinking, “It’s not much, but it got their attention.”. Later, I try and rationalize with myself about the oriental, or at least Korean, culture. Saving face is very important; being bigger is better, etc., and that day they not only lost face, we proved to them that we were much bigger than they were, though for us it was still a letdown.

I think everybody in the JSA that participated in Operation Paul Bunyan received one of these. I have no idea if other units and their members did.

It didn’t take long after this before the JSA was officially separated into North and South sections. In the area where the main buildings were at, a small concrete slab was laid so everybody would know where the dividing line was. After this, the only time someone could “freely” go onto the other side was during a tour of the MAC meeting room. Before entry of the tourists, a guard will go in and close all of the windows on the northern side so nobody can reach in. He’ll then go to the back door (North Korean entrance) and lock it from the inside. He stands at parade rest, but behind him he has his hands on the door, in case the North Koreans try to open the door with a key.  Things became much more mundane around the JSA after it became a your-side and our-side place. Things were much more active and interesting, though also much more prone to danger, when the entire area was a neutral zone with “free” movement.

Several of the guys in our unit went to the tailor shop on post after it opened up again, and had special commemorative flags made.  Looking at it now, after all these years, I see that we should have had a slightly different layout, or design, to it.  These aren’t to signify anything to do with the deaths of Capt. Bonifas and Lt. Barrett, but more towards Operation Paul Bunyan.  We should have had smaller type so we could have fit Operation Paul Bunyan in there.  Oh well, such are the vagaries of an impatient youth.

My flag.

One of the last major events I remember from the JSA was when the South Korean Navy sank a North Korean “fishing” boat in South Korean waters. The “fishing” boat was recovered from the bottom of the ocean and brought up to the JSA as an example to the KPA of their constant and blatant disregard of South Korea’s sovereignty.   The “crew” of the vessel were captured and brought up north to be repatriated as well.  First, the vessel and all of it’s standard “fishing gear” were brought in and placed on display. AK-47’s, black military infiltration clothing, South Korean maps, scuba gear, the radar and communications systems on board, the boat was equipped with twin Detroit diesel engines for high speed, etc.  When asked if the KPA and Chinese representatives would like to go outside and observe the latest violation of the Armistice agreement, the reply was “Why? There’s nothing to see out there except the road and buildings.”  Then the “fishing crew” was brought in, and upon being led near the concrete dividing slab and released, they started stripping off everything they had, all the way down to their boxer shorts. Watches, rings, pants, shirts, jackets were all thrown at their South Korean “benefactors” as they stormed across to the North Korean side. I was working what we called the “Pagoda”, next to the South Korean Red Cross building and had a good view of the events.

The pagoda at the South Korean Freedom House inside the JSA.


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