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Wed Aug 17, 2016, 09:13 PM

 

40 yrs ago today. The Axe Murder at the DMZ... [View all]

Last edited Thu Aug 18, 2016, 06:00 AM - Edit history (1)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axe_murder_incident



The axe murder incident (Korean: 판문점 도끼살인사건; Hanja: 板門店도끼殺人事件,도끼蠻行事件; literally, Panmunjom axe murder incident) was the killing of two United States Army officers, Arthur Bonifas and Mark Barrett, by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The U.S. Army officers had been part of a work party cutting down a poplar tree in the JSA that partially blocked the view of United Nations (U.N.) observers, when they were assaulted by the North Koreans and killed.

Three days later, American and South Korean forces launched Operation Paul Bunyan, an operation that cut down the tree with a show of force to intimidate North Korea into backing down, which it did. North Korea then accepted responsibility for the earlier killings.

The incident is also known alternatively as the hatchet incident, the poplar tree incident, and the tree trimming incident.


The incident
Initial trimming[edit]
On August 18, 1976, a group of five Korean Service Corps (KSC) personnel escorted by a UNC security team consisting of Captain Arthur Bonifas, his South Korean (ROK) Army counterpart, Captain Kim, the platoon leader of the current platoon in the area (First lieutenant Mark Barrett), and 11 enlisted personnel, both American and South Korean,[2] went into the JSA to trim the tree, as previously scheduled, with the KPA delegation.

The two captains did not wear side arms, as members of the Joint Security Area were limited to only five armed officers and 30 armed enlisted personnel at a time. However, there were mattocks in the back of the 2 ton truck. The KSC workers had the axes they brought to prune the tree branches. The tree had been scheduled to be trimmed seven days earlier, but rain had caused the work to be rescheduled.

After trimming began, about 15 North Korean soldiers appeared, commanded by Senior Lt. Pak Chul, whom the UNC soldiers had previously nicknamed "Lt. Bulldog" due to a history of confrontations.[3][4] Pak and his subordinates appeared to observe the trimming without concern for approximately 15 minutes, until he abruptly told the UNC to cease the activity, stating that the tree could not be trimmed "because Kim Il Sung personally planted it and nourished it and it's growing under his supervision."[5] Capt. Bonifas ordered the detail to continue, and turned his back on Lt. Pak Chul.[6]

Attack
After being ignored by Bonifas, Pak sent a runner across the Bridge of No Return. Within minutes, a North Korean guard truck crossed the bridge and approximately 20 more North Korean guards disembarked carrying crowbars and clubs. Pak again demanded that the tree trimming stop. When Bonifas again turned his back on him, Pak removed his watch, carefully wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and then shouted "kill the bastards."[6][7] Using axes dropped by the tree-trimmers, the KPA forces attacked the two U.S. soldiers, Bonifas and Lt. Barrett, and wounded all but one of the UNC guards.

While Bonifas was knocked to the ground by Pak and then bludgeoned to death by at least five North Koreans, Barrett jumped a low wall which led into a 4.5-metre (15 ft) deep tree-filled depression, just across the road from the tree. The depression was not visible from the road because of the dense grass and small trees. The entire fight lasted for only 2030 seconds before the UNC force managed to disperse the North Korean guards and place Bonifas's body in their truck.[7] However, there was no sign of Barrett and the two UNC guards at OP No. 5 could not see him.

The UNC force did, however, observe the North Korean guards at KPA No. 8 (along the UNC emergency egress road) exhibiting strange behavior, in that one guard would take an axe and go down into the depression for a couple of minutes and then come back up and hand the axe to another guard who would repeat the process.[9] This went on for approximately 90 minutes until the UNC guards at OP No. 5 were informed that Barrett was missing, at which time they informed their superiors about the KPA activity in the depression. A search and rescue squad was quickly dispatched and found Barrett had been attacked with the axe by the North Koreans.[9] Barrett was recovered and transferred to a hospital in Seoul via an aid station at Camp Greaves, but died during the journey.

Captain Shirron (Bonifas' replacement), Captain Shaddix, the joint duty officer's driver, the joint duty officer, and the OP No. 5 guard witnessed the attack from OP No. 5 and recorded the incident with both a black and white camera, which ran out of film, and Shaddix's 35 mm camera with a telephoto lens. The UNC guard at CP No. 3 (Bridge of No Return) recorded the incident with a movie camera.

Reaction
Shortly after the incident, the North Korean media began airing reports of the fight. The North Korean version stated:
Around 10:45 a.m. today, the American imperialist aggressors sent in 14 hoodlums with axes into the Joint Security Area to cut the trees on their own accord, although such a work should be mutually consented beforehand. Four persons from our side went to the spot to warn them not to continue the work without our consent. Against our persuasion, they attacked our guards en masse and committed a serious provocative act of beating our men, wielding murderous weapons and depending on the fact that they outnumbered us. Our guards could not but resort to self-defense measures under the circumstances of this reckless provocation.

Within four hours of the attack, Kim Jong-il (son of the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung) addressed the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he presented a prepared document describing the incident as an unprovoked attack on North Korean guards, led by American officers. He then introduced a resolution asking the conference to condemn that day's grave U.S. provocation and called on participants to endorse both the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea and the dissolution of the United Nations Command, which was seconded by Cuba. The members of the conference passed the resolution.

The CIA considered that the attack had been pre-planned by the North Korean government. A variety of responses were evaluated. Readiness levels for American forces in South Korea were increased to DEFCON 3 early on August 19. Rocket and artillery attacks in the area were considered, but discounted due to an unfavorable 4:1 ratio of artillery pieces and because President Park Chung-hee did not want military action taken.

Operation Paul Bunyan
In response to the "axe murder incident", the UNC determined that instead of trimming the branches that obscured visibility, they would cut down the tree with the aid of overwhelming force. The parameters of the operation were decided in the White House, where President Gerald Ford had held crisis talks. Ford and his advisers were concerned about making a show of strength to chasten North Korea, but without causing further escalation.[13] The operation, named after mythical lumberjack Paul Bunyan, was conceived as a US-South Korean show of force, but was also carefully managed to prevent further escalation. It was planned over two days by General Richard G. Stilwell and his staff at the UNC headquarters in Seoul.[6]



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