Sunday, May 7, 2017

Moon Jae-in was at Operation Paul Bunyan


This is a neat fact of history that I didn't know about. Current Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (and come Tuesday's election, likely Korea's president), was one of the ROK soldiers accompanying the US Military in Operation Paul Bunyan of the infamous DMZ Ax Murders incident.

Moon Jae-in during his army days. Image: Yonhap

From Time magazine's recent profile of Moon:

On the morning of Aug. 18, 1976, two American soldiers set off to trim a poplar tree in the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ). The tree was obscuring the line of sight between U.N. and North Korean guard towers on the narrow strip of land that has separated the peninsula's communist North from its capitalist South since an armistice effectively ended the 1950 — 53 Korean War. Both sides had approved the pruning, but North Korea sent soldiers to order the work to stop. Captain Arthur Bonifas and First Lieutenant Mark Barrett refused, and were promptly hacked to death with their own axes.
General Richard G. Stilwell, then commander of the U.N. Forces in South Korea, ordered the tree completely cut down as a symbolic act of resolve. Among the troops sent to help fell the tree was a young South Korean soldier named Moon Jae-in. Tensions were dangerously high, he says today. "If the North had tried to interfere, it could easily have triggered war."
Moon Jae-in: The Negotiator | Time.com

I'd known about this incident, but never knew of Moon's involvement. Pretty amazing. Here's a brief idea of the show of force Moon would have been part of:

The North Korean army was put on full-alert. War seemed imminent. What came instead was, the aptly named, Operation Paul Bunyan three days later. South Korean and American military vehicles streamed into the Joint Security Area on the morning of August 21. U.S. soldiers began removing the tree with chainsaws, as twenty-seven helicopters hovered above, daring the North Koreans to do something. B-52s and fighter planes rumbled in the skies a short distance away. It took 42 minutes to cut down the tree, though a stump was left as a memorial to the fallen Americans.
When two Americans were axed to death by N. Korean soldiers | NK News - North Korea News

It sounds like some of those ROK soldiers involved wanted some action:

In addition, a 64-man South Korean Special Forces company accompanied them, armed with clubs and trained in Tae Kwon Do, supposedly without firearms. However, once they parked their trucks near the Bridge of No Return, they started throwing out the sandbags that lined the truck bottoms, and handing out M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers that had been concealed below Several of the special forces men also had M18 Claymore mines strapped to their chests with the firing mechanism in their hands, and were shouting at the North Koreans to cross the bridge.
Axe murder incident - Wikipedia

Heck maybe Moon was this wacky guy talked about here:

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

In all seriousness, it seems like the reality was a bit less exciting as far as Moon is concerned. A quick search suggest that he was part of the back-up unit standing ready to rush in and defend the units assigned to actually get in and remove the tree:

(문재인 상병 우리가 알고있는 그 문재인이 맞다.)
공수부대원으로 도발작전에 동원된것은 맞으나 후방 예비부대에 있었던 것으로 전해지며 북한초소를 쳐들어가서 때려부수는 일엔 관여되지 않았다.
세계 3차대전, 핵전쟁 위기를 불러온 판문점 도끼만행 사건과 문재인 : 네이버 블로그

Here's what he had to say about the operation:

“상병 때 ‘판문점 도끼 만행 사건’이 일어났다. 그 사건에 대한 대응으로 미루나무를 자르는 작전을 우리 부대가 맡았다. 한국전쟁 이후 처음으로 데프콘이 상향됐다. 준전시 사태였다. 나무를 자를 때 북한이 제지하거나 충돌이 일어나면 바로 전쟁이 발발하는 상황이었다. 그런 상황까지 대비해 부대 내 최정예 요원들이 미루나무 제거조로 투입되고 나머지 병력은 외곽에 배치됐다. 다행히 북한은 미루나무 자르는 것을 못 본 척 아무 대응을 하지 않았다. 그때 잘라온 미루나무 토막을 넣은 기념물을 국난(國難) 극복 기장이라고 하나씩 나눠줬다.
문재인 傳奇 (2/4) : 조선pub(조선펍) > 칼럼 > 정치

I ended up finding some photos I hadn't personally seen before by searching the Korean name of the event, 판문점도끼만행사건 (lit. Panmunjeom Ax Brutality Incident), on Google and also Naver which has a color version of the photo below, along with some surprisingly good looking action figure dioramas of the event.

Finally here's a line that I thought was pretty funny that sums up the incident:

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


Engineers from the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division start to cut down the infamous tree while soldiers of the UNC Joint Security Force and ROK Army perform security around the operation. Caption: VFW Post #7591. Image: Wikipedia

You can read plenty more on the Panmunjom Ax Murder incident over at the ROK Drop archives.

HT: Reddit

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