The "Axe Murder Incident"
March 14, 2006 3:17 PM   Subscribe

The "Axe Murder Incident" On Wednesday 18 August 1976 at 1040 hours in the morning, a United Nations Command (UNC) work force of five Korean Service Corps (KSC) personnel accompanied by and UNC security force...started to prune a large tree in the vicinity of UNC Check Point #3...Lieutenant Pak then shouted "MI KUN UL CHU KI GI CHA." Translated, it means, "Kill the U.S. Aggressors."; the UNC security force was attacked by a superior force of 30 KPA guards wielding pick handles, knives, clubs, and axes.
posted by Postroad (20 comments total)
posted by russilwvong at 3:25 PM on March 14, 2006

Excellent post. Operation Paul Bunyan accomplished!
posted by tkchrist at 3:28 PM on March 14, 2006

Great post. I love gems like these exposing operations that have long-since escaped the grasp of our media and have been lost to the ever-forward pace of time.

At least someone still remembers.

Regardless of the politics behind the action or perspectives of the parties involved... lost stories of soldiers just doing their best to be a good soldier are inspiring.

Duty. Honor. Country. A damn tree. (sigh)

F*cking tree... Can we designate Pyongyang as a diseased Redwood and wipe that f*cker out?

posted by roguescout at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2006

I was stationed with the AF in Alaska at the time of that incident...we were put on High Alert, and I was terrified that my plan to avoid war by enlisting in the Af before another Viet Nam erupted was going by the wayside.
posted by lobstah at 3:42 PM on March 14, 2006

Interesting stuff. Out of interest, what prompted this post at this particular time?
posted by snoktruix at 3:53 PM on March 14, 2006

If you ever take a tour of the Pentagon, you can see part of the tree that was taken down.
posted by John of Michigan at 4:03 PM on March 14, 2006

I remember arriving at the Turtle Farm in Seoul in the Fall of '94 and being greeted with a small photo exhibit documenting this incident, along with a pair of mannequins in North Korean military uniforms under the banner "Welcome to the Republic of Korea. Meet Your Enemy" or something very similar.

While I was there, CWO Bobby Hall got shot down (we all went on alert and got set to roll for the hills), and not too long after I left for Ft. Bragg, some friends from my unit told me about how they were put on alert yet again when a bunch of NK infiltrators were gunned down in a shootout outside of Taejon.

Along with the 3 a.m. chemical attack drills, the awareness that we were training exactly where we'd be working and fighting in the event of an invasion, the occasional riot outside the post and the bizarre "MPs chase phony infiltrators from the local LRS across the softball field at 1 in the morning on a Saturday" incidents, that stuff made Korea kinda nuts to be in.

In my brief four year enlistment, one of which was spent in the ROK and the balance of which was spent in a jump unit at Ft. Bragg, I remember my time in Korea as a lot more jumpy and jittery, but also somewhat satisfying. Like the banner over the exhibit said, I had an idea of what I was doing there and some of the eventualities I was sitting around waiting to happen. Ft. Bragg was pretty much "hurry up and wait for something we can't even identify yet."
posted by mph at 4:16 PM on March 14, 2006

Reminds me of JSA...
posted by runkelfinker at 4:18 PM on March 14, 2006

Reminds me of JSA...

Me too, I think they may have made some refrences to that incident in the film, or I may have read about it at around the same time.
posted by bobo123 at 4:38 PM on March 14, 2006

I’m no militarylinguanianist...but isn’t calling a murder involving axes an ‘incident’ a bit of an understatement?
posted by Smedleyman at 4:41 PM on March 14, 2006

I did some research on this about two years ago. During discussions with the Administration at the time Kissinger floated the idea of detonating a nuclear warhead near one of North Korea's port cities. Not to damage it mind you, but just close enough to blow out some windows and leave a cloud in the sky.

That Kissinger has never been prosecuted for warcrimes is one of the greatest injustices of the last century.
posted by Vaska at 4:45 PM on March 14, 2006

I remember this horror, though I remembered it wrong, that just one officer had been killed. It was a shocking event. Thanks for reminding us.
posted by etaoin at 4:46 PM on March 14, 2006

I’m no militarylinguanianist...but isn’t calling a murder involving axes an 'incident' a bit of an understatement?

"The Axe Murder Murders" sounds sorta redundant.

How about "kerfuffle?"
posted by mph at 6:02 PM on March 14, 2006

Lets see: they kill 2 (or 3, I didn't think the story was clear on that count) American army officers, and we retaliate by cutting down the tree we originally tried to prune? As much as I hate military posturing and the current state of affairs, this sort of thing strikes me as exactly why the more extremist elements think of us as wimps even as we bully others. I am not a mindless supporter of Israel, but I don't think for a second that they would let an incident like this pass without rocket strikes against suspected terrorists, targeted killings, and any other retribution they could muster. Anyhow, its a great story that I haven't heard before, and I appreciate your posting it.
posted by TedW at 6:51 PM on March 14, 2006

Sounds like a lot of widowmakers were ready to fall during Operation Paul Bunyan:
Meanwile, the governments of South Korea, and the United States confired on all possible courses of action. All of us stationed in Korea at the time knew we could not let the North Koreans have their way, or there would be much more trouble later. Once the decision was made by governments involved, the planning for "Operation Paul Bunyan" began. The US Air Force moved in units from the Continental United States (CONUS), Okinawa, and Guam to Korea; and the US Navy moved the 7th Fleet consistinng of the USS Midway carrier battlegroup to Korean Waters.

All units of the 2ID continued to improve their war fighting capabilities by moving to their war positions or locations designated by the Division Commander to support the operation. Battalion Ammunition Officers throughout the division were ordered to distribute their units "Basic Loads" and prepare for resupply operations.


At 0700 hours, Task Force Vierra entered the JSA security compound and moved directly to the Poplar tree next to CP3. Along with the work force was approximately 60 ROK Special Forces soldiers forming a ring around the 16 engineer soldiers from the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2ID, cutting the tree. In addition, Compay A, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry (Manchu), 2ID moved into position as a quick reaction force to support the Task Force Vierra. Behind the 2/9th was a forward observer from the 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery (Steel Behind the Rock), 2ID waiting for orders to fire a massed artillery strike. Behind him were AH-1 "Cobra" gunships orbiting just out of site beyond the ridges, then F-111 Fighter Bombers, and behind and way above them were B-52 Stratofortresses.
More details, photos and maps about the Korean DMZ in the July 2003 National Geographic article, Korea's Dangerous Divide:
...the soldiers at Panmunjom are chosen for their intimidating appearance. The South Koreans here must stand at least five feet eight (170 centimeters), two inches (5 centimeters) taller on average than their countrymen; a black belt in martial arts is also required. The Americans assigned to Panmunjom are plucked at airports from the batches of GIs arriving from overseas, selected for height—six feet (180 centimeters) or more is preferred—and for physical bearing. The North Korean sentinels are no slouches either—ramrod straight, steely eyed, and among the best fed people in their famine-threatened country.
Face to face, eyeball to eyeball: the stuff wars are made of.
posted by cenoxo at 8:19 PM on March 14, 2006

The "Bridge of No Return" was also depicted, vaguely, in the James Bond movie Die Another Day.

The ROK/US base just outside the Joint Security Area was renamed Camp Bonifas in 1986.

I always thought this was the strangest thing -- I didn't know that they had to use the US soldiers' axes because they had no weapons. The media reports at the time seemed to imply that the North Koreans had just gone crazy.

As retaliation, cutting down the tree may seem impossibly disproportionate, but the troops at the time were told it could "lead to World War III".
posted by dhartung at 10:13 PM on March 14, 2006

When you do the DMZ tour (which I finally took a couple years back when a friend from the States came to visit and wanted to go), they spend quite a while talking about that incident. The closest checkpoint they take you to overlooks the tree and bridge in question, a few score metres away. Off in the distance is an empty propaganda village, and a tower built expressly to be taller than a similar one on the south side. I'm not one for tours, much, but I recommend if you ever get to Seoul, that you do it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:41 AM on March 15, 2006

Fantastic and fascinating.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:53 AM on March 15, 2006

Man, folks will get into fights about the stupidest of things.
posted by moonbiter at 3:53 AM on March 15, 2006

“How about "kerfuffle?"” -posted by mph

Hullabaloo perhaps. Donnybrook? Fufferall?
(carnage, slaughter, butchery - even just ‘murders’ might do it tho)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2006

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