The Axe Murder Incident Or: Operation Paul Bunyan - Blog! - Two-Fisted History

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The Axe Murder Incident
Or:
Operation Paul Bunyan

Since 1953 when the Armistice between The DMZ is the most militarized border in the worldNorth Korea, China, and the United Nations Command was signed, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates Communist North Korea from Republican South along the 38th Parallel has been the scene of the United States’ longest active military conflict.  The Armistice that was Those Yankee Imperialist Running Dog Capitalists!signed didn’t end the Korean War; it just pressed the pause button on it.  From time-to-time, conflict and hostilities still break out between the North and the United Nation Command (UNC).  One of those confrontations was the Axe Murder Incident.

In the Joint Security Area (JSA), the only place in the DMZ where the UNC and North Korean armies stand nose-to-nose and where most of the diplomatic talks take place, there was a giant tree that blocked the view between the UN checkpoint and one of their observation posts.  In August 1976, five South Korean workers backed by a squad of American & South Korean troops went to prune this tree.  The troops were led by Americans CAPT Arthur Bonifas and 1LT Mark Barret.

As the workers began pruning and cutting the tree, fifteen or so North Korean soldiers started watching them.  After 20 minutes, their commander, LT Pak Chul told the UNC personnel that they had to stop immediatThat was Kim Jongun's Grandpaely.  The tree couldn’t be trimmed, he said, because ‘Kim Il Sung personally planted it, nourished it, and it [was] growing under his supervision.’

CAPT Bonifas turned his back on Pak and ordered the workers to keep going.

Well, Ol’ PAmericans had named Pak, 'Bulldog' because he had a habit of causing troubleak wasn’t going to tolerate that.  He sent one of his soldiers back across The Bridge Of No Return, and in a few minutes, a North Korean truck came back over the Bridge with about 20 more soldiers, each wielding crowbars, axes, knives, and clubs.  Pak told Bonifas again to stop what they were doing, and again Bonifas turned around and ignored him.

Pak calmly took off his wristwatch, wrapped it in a handkerchief and placed it in his pocket so that it wouldn’t be damaged.  He then yelled ‘Kill the mongrels!’  Migun ul chu gi la! - Korean for 'Let's kill the Mongrels!'With that, the North Koreans began attacking.  Pak jumped Bonifas from behind, knocking him to the ground where a group of North Koreans beat him to death.  The attack lasted for about half a minute until a UNC soldier drove a truck into the North Koreans and both sides retreated.  Later on that day, the North Korean news claimed that it was the UN who started it, and called for the ‘Imperialist Aggressors’ to leave Korea.

The Americans considered military retaliation, but the South Korean President was concerned that that might result in an end to the Armistice.  Instead, U.S. Lumberjacking with extreme prejudicePresident Gerald Ford authorized Operation Paul Bunyan.  The Americans wouldn’t just prune the tree, they would cut it down with overwhelming force.

 

American engineers cut down the offending tree

At 0640 on 21 August, the North Koreans were delivered a message:

0700 hours this day a UNC work force would be entering the security area of the JSA and commence to prune the tree in vicinity of CP3.

23 U.S. and South Korean vehicles drove into the JSA at 0700 without any further notice.  The entire force consisted of:

  • 16 military engineers with chainsaws to cut the tree down.
  • Two platoons of infantry to secure the entry into the JSA.
  • An M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle with its 165mm gun trained on the midpoint of the Bridge.
  • 64 South Korean Special Forces troops armed with clubs and trained in Tae Kwon Do.  Several of them also had claymore mines strapped to their chests with the firing mechanism in their hands, and were shouting at the North Koreans – daring them to cross the bridge.
  • Additionally, an infantry company in 20 helicopters, 7 attack helicopters, and a flight of nuclear-capable B-52s escorted by F4 Phantoms were visible in the air.

Their way of saying 'Neener Neener.'The North Koreans sent about 200 troops into the area, but aside from setting up some machine gun positions, did nothing.  The tree was cut down in abouBut not before the South Koreans Vandalized two North Korean guard posts!t 45 minutes, leaving only a 20-foot tall stump.  Afterwards, the UNC force left peaceably.

Today if you visit the site, there’s a stone monument in honor of CAPT Bonifas, 1LT Barret, and the other soldiers killed by the North Koreans.  At the North Korean Peace Museum also located in the JSA, the axes that the North Koreans used to kill the UN tree trimmers are still displayed.

All that was left of the tree.

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