I am often asked why I keep up with events in the Korean DMZ in 1976. My answer is: so often, those telling the story get it wrong. Very wrong. Even stories between those who claim to have been there aren’t quite right. 40 years after the PanMunJom Axe Murders and Operation Paul Bunyan, the facts are often distorted.
Below are portions of an article which appeared on the internet and posted to the 2ida Facebook page. Bill Ferguson, veteran of the Joint Security Area, and I (both part of Task Force Vierra) wrote to try to correct the errors. As of this writing, 3 weeks later, it is still wrong even though they promised to corrected the article the following weekend. Just another example of don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
The entire article can be seen at
In the interest of FAIR USE to correct errors, the paragraphs which are incorrect are below along with correct information in bold italics:
Because it was officially a demilitarized zone, neither side carried side arms. Anyone familiar with the Korean DMZ will know that you have to be armed in order to enter the DMZ. As for the JSA, the terms of the armistice allow each side to have 35 armed men (5 officers and 30 enlisted) within the limits of the Joint Security Area.
First Lieutenant Mark Barrett was the platoon leader in charge of the security team, but it was 15 against 35, so he ran across the road and into a deep ditch. This is wrong. Eugene Bickley’s recollections as told on the History Channel’s “Running the DMZ” state that the initial onslaught of north Korean soldiers came so sudden and so hard that at least one person was knocked over the wall located at their backs. Barrett, upon seeing a man on the other side, jumped the wall to help. The photo below shows most of the men still tightly bunched at the wall. To the left is Barrett on the other side going to help his man – PFC Brian George who said later that Barrett saved his life. Hardly running across the road and into a ditch as claimed.
Other UNC members boiled out of their station and stopped the fighting half a minute
later. The fight lasted about 4 minutes and there were no other UNC members committed to the fight. The quick reaction force, according to the platoon leader , George Chobany, saw the fight was breaking up and people were scattering as the quick reaction force came into view. They put Bonifas’ corpse in their truck and sped off, not realizing that they had left Barrett behind. Since the ditch was filled with trees, the UNC guards at OP5 didn’t see him, though they did capture the fighting on film.
They did see a North Korean guard take an axe, go into the ditch, then come out and hand it to someone else who’d do the same thing. Ninety minutes (the official account of the fight and aftermath puts the time at about 20 minutes.) later, they received news that Barrett was missing. A rescue squad found Barrett, but he died en route to the hospital.
This photo is mis-labeled by the JSA and used in the article. The man identified as Barrett is actually Sgt Eugene Bickley. If you need a little more proof, there are better quality photos available on the internet. Zoom in and check the skin color of the man pictured. Barrett is white, this man is not. In “Running The DMZ”, Bickley identifies himself as the man.
On August 21, a convoy of jeeps (there were a few jeeps, mostly duce and a half trucks.) manned by Americans and South Koreans drove into the Joint Security Area at 7 AM. Sixteen were from the 2nd Engineer Battalion, armed with chainsaws, while 60 were the security team armed with guns (this is my rifle, this is my gun … see rules for armed personel above).
The South Korean Special Forces also sent in 64 men armed with M-16 rifles and M-79 grenade launchers that they used on the still empty North Korean posts (I was there … not a shot was fired from .45s, M-16s or grenade launchers … not a shot was fired in the JSA by either side.). Others strapped claymore mines on their chests. With fingers on the detonation button, they yelled at the North Korean Army, challenging them to cross the bridge. (This actually did happen.)
In the skies were several Cobra attack helicopters and Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses. South Korean F-5 and F-86 fighters also flew close to the DMZ, while more fighter planes were flown in from US bases in Japan and the Philippines. The USS Midway had docked in South Korea just as bombers made sorties over the Joint Security Area. (We were supported by F-4s from the Midway which does not launch planes while in port or docked)
Besides the mass deployment of South Korean and UNC troops along the border, the US sent over another 12,000 troops and 1,800 Marines. (There was no time to send 12,000 troops … all of this happened in just under 72 hours) North Korean communications showed that they were in panic mode, but they could only muster a paltry 150 to 200 troops with machine guns and assault rifles.
These watched silently as the tree was completely denuded of its limbs, leaving only a 20-foot tall stump. While that was happening, the UNC informed North Korea that they were peacefully finishing the work begun three days previously. Two North Korean road barriers were also removed, while the South Koreans destroyed the remaining North Korean guard posts. (I only saw one KPA guardpost damaged of the 4 on the “southern” side. ROK special forces did this with their hands and feet using Tae Kwan Do.)
The story of what happened changes often and somewhat drastically. The truth is horrible enough without embellishing it. And if you present yourself as “history” or someone documenting an event, it would be nice to get that even a little more accurate that what is here.
This from the man who took the photos of the fight address inaccurate information.