The Fourth North Korean Soldier This Year Defects Across the DMZ

Yet another North Korean soldier has defected across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and this time it was not as dramatic as the November defection at the JSA:

A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea across the mid-western border Thursday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

“A low-ranking soldier defected to our GP (guard post) across the mid-western border at 8:04 a.m.,” a JCS official said, asking not to be named.

The latest defection came about 40 days after another North Korean soldier fled to the South through the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the truce village of Panmunjeom.

The JCS said the GP occupants identified the soldier coming toward the South through surveillance equipment, adding that the soldier carried an AK-47 assault rifle.

“Relevant bodies will conduct an investigation into how and why the soldier defected to the South,” the official said.

No shots were exchanged between the two Koreas during the soldier’s defection; but South Korean troops fired 20 warning rounds from K-3 machine guns at 9:24 a.m. when North Korean border guards approached the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) while searching for the soldier who defected.

“The North’s border guards stopped approaching the MDL after our warning shots,” the official said.

At 10:13 a.m. and 10:16 a.m., shots were heard from the North, but there was no damage on the South Korean side, the official added.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but I would not be surprised if the shots heard from the North were executions of the officers responsible for the soldier who defected.  The same thing happened after the Russian student defected during the 1984 JSA Shootout.

This defection is the fourth this year by a North Korean soldier.  Prior to these defections there were four defections of North Korean soldiers in the past 5 years.

Coincidentally on the same day two North Korean fishermen defected across the East Sea as well.  They were picked up to the north of Dokdo.  That makes 15 North Korean defections this year across the DMZ or maritime border compared to 5 last year.  The numbers may be up this year of defecting across the border, but the numbers are still too low to draw any hard conclusions.  I guess we will see what happens in 2018.

DMZ Flashpoints: The 1984 JSA Shootout

The November 2017 defection of a North Korean soldier has brought increased awareness to the Joint Security Area (JSA).  However, the North Korean soldier was not the first time that someone has defected at the Joint Security Area. In 1984 a defection by a Russian student visiting the North Korean side of the JSA led to one of the largest and deadliest shootouts in the history of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  The shootout would claim the life of one ROK soldier and seriously wound one US soldier while killing three North Korean soldiers with many more wounded.

Stars & Stripes – November 26, 1984

Prelude to A Shootout

On the morning of Friday, November 23, 1984 there were no tours scheduled for the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) due to the Thanksgiving holiday the prior day.  This meant it should have been a fairly low key day for the United States (US) and Republic of Korea (ROK) troops stationed at the JSA.   However, the North Koreans had a tour planned on their side of the border for a group of Russian exchange students.  Half of the group Russians were normal exchange students attending Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang while the other half were from the Moscow Institute of International Relations.  Of interest is that a ROK Drop favorite and noted North Korean expert Professor Andrei Lankov was one of the Russian exchange students on the tour that day.

Andrei Lankov

In Lankov’s account he says students from the Moscow Institute were from the upper classes of Soviet society and they were usually groomed to become diplomats, international businessmen, or spies.  The eliteness of the Moscow Institute students was shown by how they were allowed to stay at the Russian embassy in Pyongyang instead of being put up in the North Korean dorms at Kim Il Sung University like the Russian exchange students like Lankov were housed at.

At 11:30 AM the Russian tour group approached the blue colored UN Military Armistice Commission (MAC) buildings to stop and take pictures.  The MAC buildings are used to conduct meetings and are cut in half by the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which is the official border between the two rival countries.  The group stopped at the MAC building to take pictures while they were guarded by one North Korean soldier.  One of the students from the Moscow Institute, the 22-year old Vasily Yakovlevich Matuzok asked the soldier from the Korea’s People’s Army (KPA) to stand next to him and pose for a picture.  While the soldier posed for the picture Matuzok turned around and made a dash across the MDL into South Korea.

The Escape

The North Korean guard immediately turned around and chased Matuzok across the MDL.  As it became clear the Russian was getting away the KPA soldier pulled out his pistol to shoot at the fleeing student.  Other North Korean soldiers began to chase Matuzok across the MDL as well.  Matuzok remembers running across the border towards three US and ROK soldiers.  Two of the soldiers remained in their positions while a third soldier ran away.  Matuzok decided to follow the fleeing soldier.  After the shooting started Matuzok sought cover in some bushes south of the Sunken Garden.

One of the US soldiers on duty that day in Checkpoint #4, Private First Class (PFC) Richard Howard saw the dash by Matuzok across the border and he immediately raised the alarm to alert the rest of the platoon on duty that day.  This alert warned the rest of the US and ROK soldiers on duty to pull out their rifles and prepare for combat.

Stars & Stripes – November 26, 1984

The two of the soldiers that Matuzok saw while running were PFC Michael A. Burgoyne and Korean Augmentee to the US Army (KATUSA) PFC Chang Ayung Gi.  The two soldiers at the time were escorting a civilian work crew when Matuzok ran by them yelling for help.  The soldiers reacted quickly by pulling out their .45 caliber pistols and shooting at the North Korean soldiers chasing him.  PFC Burgoyne shot one of the soldiers chasing Matuzok.  The shooting of the North Korean soldier caused the rest of the North Korean soldiers to stop chasing Matuzok and instead return fire at Burgoyne and Chang.  By this time over 20 KPA soldiers were chasing Matuzok and two of them were armed with machine guns and the rest with pistols.  Burgoyne and Chang did not stand a chance against the superior firepower; Burgoyne took a round to his lower face and neck while Chang was shot through his right eye and was dead before reaching the ground.  However, the covering fire provided by Burgoyne and Chang gave Matuzok the time he needed to hide in some nearby bushes to escape the North Koreans.

Private First Class Chang Myung-ki killed during the November 23, 1984 JSA shootout.

The Shootout Intensifies

Simultaneously while the KPA was shooting at Burgoyne and Chang, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Johnny Taylor ordered the troops within Checkpoint #4 to get out the M-16’s they had hidden and exit the building to engage the advancing North Koreans.  The superior firepower provided by SFC Taylor’s men forced the KPA soldiers to seek cover in the Sunken Garden area of the JSA.  Two KPA soldiers with machine guns then advanced from north of the MDL to try and lay suppressive fire on Taylor’s group to help their pinned down comrades.  However, Specialist David Cotton, Jr.and ROK Army Private First Class Oh Yong-Suk returned fire at the two KPA’s soldiers from the vicinity of Checkpoint #5.  This suppressive fire was enough to distract the KPA soldiers from laying effective suppressive fire on SFC Taylor’s men.

Map of the JSA overlayed with graphics depicting major events from the defection and shootout.

At this point it was a full fledged shootout involving over 20 soldiers on each side.  While this was going on the reports of the shootout were relayed back to the tactical operations center (TOC) at Camp Kitty Hawk, the base camp for the JSA.  The Joint Security Force Company Commander Captain Bert Mizusawa was immediately summoned to the TOC after receiving word of the shootout.  CPT Mizusawa mustered the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) prepositioned near the TOC and they raced up the road to the JSA in their jeeps to Checkpoint #2.  They arrived at CP #2 approximately 15 minutes since the defection of Matuzok.  Mizusawa ordered one squad of the QRF to advance north towards the helipad to assist SFC Taylor’s men engaging the North Koreans at the Sunken Garden.

CPT Mizusawa then led the other two squads to the west and then north to outflank the KPA in the Sunken Garden and seal off any avenues of approach the KPA could use to reinforce the troops at the Sunken Garden.  While advancing they found Matuzok hiding in the bushes south of the Sunken Garden.  This was the first time that CPT Mizusawa fully understood what had happened.  He immediately secured the defector and made sure he was safely taken back to Camp Kitty Hawk.  The defector was the evidence that the US and ROK troops needed to prove that this firefight was caused by an armed incursion into the JSA by the KPA.  If the defector was killed the North Koreans could claim he was kidnapped by the US and the KPA responded to the kidnapping.  With Matuzok alive the lies could be easily countered.

While Matuzok was being transported back to Camp Kitty Hawk by the QRF platoon sergeant SFC Howard Williams, the QRF continued to outflank the enemy penned down in the Sunken Garden as well as fend off attacks from the west from KPA troops trying to reinforce them.  While this was going on SPC Jon Orlicki was firing a 40mm grenade launcher from CP #4 towards the Sunken Garden.  With the KPA penned down CPT Mizusawa ordered the QRF squad to the south led by Staff Sergeant (SSG) Richard Lamb to assault through the Sunken Garden.  With the US troops advancing on them the KPA troops tried to retreat from the Sunken Garden and found no means of escape, they instead dropped their weapons and surrendered.

US soldiers from the QRF can be seen advancing through the Sunken Garden area of the JSA in the last stages of the 1984 JSA shootout.  SSG Lamb can be seen in the prone position.  

The surrender of the KPA happened approximately six minutes after the QRF had arrived.  Seeing that the KPA had surrendered CPT Mizusawa called for a truck to come up to the Sunken Garden to transport the prisoners.  The KPA had clearly violated the armistice and murdered a ROK soldier while doing so.  However, bureaucracy and procedural processes would lead to the KPA soldiers being allowed to be immediately evacuated back to North Korea.  Here is how an excellent article written by retired Colonel Thomas Hanson on the US Army Museum website describes what happened:

Shortly after the shooting started, the KPA Joint Duty Officer, Major Park, telephoned U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Randy A. Brooks in the UNC Joint Duty Officer building to request a cease-fire.  Park also requested authorization to cross the MDL with six unarmed personnel to evacuate the dead and wounded KPA soldiers.  Staff Sergeant Brooks relayed this information to the US/UN/Combined Forces Command operations center in Seoul without informing Captain Mizusawa or any member of his chain of command.  U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Earl E. Bechtold, the UNCMAC Assistant Secretary, was the senior UNCMAC officer in Seoul that day.  Unable to speak with UNC senior leaders who were visiting offshore islands in the East China Sea and receiving no authoritative instructions from anyone in Seoul, on his own authority Bechtold granted the KPA request without qualification.  Staff Sergeant Brooks then ran down to the Sunken Garden yelling, “Cease fire, cease fire.”  Mizusawa ordered his men to ignore Brooks, who had no command authority.  Several minutes later, Lieutenant Thomas received confirmation of the order via telephone from Captain Nowak in the operations center.  Thomas radioed to Mizusawa that the order had come from “CP Seoul.”

I think it is arguable that a decision of this magnitude should not have been made by a lieutenant colonel back in Seoul who may not have had a complete picture of what had happened.  I think a major armistice violation like this should have required a general officer’s decision which would have forced a more complete accounting of what had happened before making a decision.  Regardless, the decision allowed the North Koreans to police up their dead and remove evidence of their armistice violation.  Something surprising about this whole situation was that no one had a camera on them to take pictures of the captured, wounded, and dead KPA soldiers on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area.  The pictures would have been clear evidence of the armistice violations by the North Korean soldiers.  Cameras back then were not as ubiquitous as they are today, but it just seems like the JSA back then still would have had a lot of cameras present to capture armistice violations.

After the North Koreans evacuated their personnel back across the MDL, Mizusawa then began to take stock of casualties.  Considering how fierce the firefight was, the US and ROK forces only suffered one wounded and one killed in action.  The wounded was PFC Burgoyne who was shot in the neck and the dead was ROK soldiers PFC Chang who was shot through the eye during the initial portion of the firefight.  The KPA on the other hand officially reported three killed in action and one wounded though it is believed there were far more wounded.

However, death for North Korean soldiers did not end with the conclusion of the 1984 JSA shootout.  Representatives from the Swiss and Swedish delegations to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission who were present on the north side of the MDL following the shootout reported that surviving KPA soldiers who had surrendered at the Sunken Garden got into a bitter argument with more senior North Korean officers.  Two North Korean KPA guards were then executed behind the main North Korean JSA building.  This all happened just minutes after the firefight.  There have been unconfirmed reports that one of the men executed was Lieutenant Pak Chul who was the KPA soldier who murdered former JSA Security Company Commander, Captain Arthur Bonifas during the 1976 DMZ Axe Murder Incident.  After the 1984 shootout Pak was never seen again at the JSA.

Google Earth image of today’s JSA with the major events of the 1984 shootout overlaid on it.

The Aftermath

If anyone thinks the US side was happy to have Matuzok defect, they would be wrong.  After the incident the JSA Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Viale confronted Matuzok to remind him that a JSA soldier had died and another was seriously wounded by his actions.  The Russian student Andrei Lankov who was there that day was also very critical of Matuzok’s actions:

He did it, he told the Americans in the interview, because it was his first-ever chance to flee to the West, countering North Korea’s claim that he had been forced to flee. Lankov is less sympathetic, arguing that the defection was needlessly risky and cost lives when there would have been better opportunities to defect.

“I believe he risked the lives of himself and others, some of which were indeed killed, for no reason,” he argues. “He even risked provoking an armed confrontation in a highly tense part of the world. He was smart and educated enough to understand (this).”

“Matuzok’s eventual job as a diplomat would assuredly give him innumerable opportunities to defect without the risks and bloodshed.”  [NK]

In the days after the shooting the North Koreans claimed that the US started the firefight and violated the armistice.  During meetings following the shooting the US side produced evidence showing it was the North Koreans who initiated the firefight and violated the armistice:

At the commission meeting today, Admiral Horne produced photographs and tape recordings to back up his assertions that the North Koreans had violated the armistice. In one tape recording, made through a microphone that had been left on, bursts of automatic weapons fire could be heard distinctly, soon after voices had shouted in Korean, ”Hey, hands up!” and ”Catch him!”

”The fact is when your guards realized that a member of their tour was running to freedom, they drew their weapons and pursued him deep into our portion of the J.S.A., repeatedly firing at him with deadly weapons,” the admiral said.  [New York Times – November 27, 1984]

In response the North Koreans repeatedly tried to claim that the US and ROK soldiers kidnapped the Russian student after he inadvertently stepped over the MDL:

In response, North Korean officers produced bullets that they said had been fired from American-made automatic weapons.

United States officials acknowledged later that their soldiers had brought in machine guns and M-16 rifles, but said they had belonged to a force posted outside the security area and had acted only after the North Korean firing started. ‘You Are the Criminals’

”You are the criminals for the latest incident, and should bear responsibility for it,” said the chief North Korean delegate, Maj. Gen. Li Tae Ho of the North Korean Army.

General Li repeated earlier North Korean assertions that Mr. Matuzok, a trainee with the Soviet Embassy in Pyongyang, was not a defector and should be returned to the north. The young man, he said, had ”inadvertently” stepped over a boundary line and was immediately grabbed by United Nations Command soldiers who fired at the North Koreans.  [New York Times – November 27, 1984]

To counter the North Korean claims, the US released an interview with Matuzok where he described what happened and verifies that he crossed on his own free will.  He also stated that he planned to defect for 2 years and the trip to Panmunjom was his “very first opportunity to go to the West.”:

Stars & Stripes – November 28, 1984

Following the debrief, Matuzok was then turned over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Rome.

Stars & Stripes – Dec. 2, 1984

Matuzok would eventually be allowed to resettle in the United States.  In 1986 Matuzok gave an interview to the Christian Science Monitor where he disclosed that he lived in Boston and worked in the maintenance department of a large hotel under a new name:

He moved to Boston to enroll in an English-as-a-second-language program. At the end of this — with his English greatly improved — he took a job in the maintenance department of a large Boston hotel “fixing vacuum cleaners, painting things, everything.” At the same time, he began studying in a technical school. Today he is a special student at a Boston-area university, where he is taking courses on US military policy and China.  (……….)

But many defectors, such as Matuzok, have only limited usefulness as intelligence sources and don’t fall under the care of the CIA once they are in this country. Matuzok was a college intern assigned to the Soviet Embassy in North Korea when he defected.

Matuzok’s main concern now is his career. He has taken on a new, somewhat-WASPy name and dresses well above the borderline-Bohemian style popular in Boston intellectual circles.

The Jamestown Foundation’s Geimer says most defectors are apprehensive about their new identities — “some much more so than others.” In Matuzok’s case, he says, it probably wasn’t necessary for him to change his name. When asked about this, Matuzok — who asked that his new name not be used in this article — simply replies that he prefers to make it as difficult as possible for Soviet authorities to keep track of him. [Christian Science Monitor]

What happened to Matuzok after this 1986 interview is largely unknown.  Lankov claims that he heard Matuzok died in a traffic accident in Canada in 1990 while a Russian reporter claims that he now lives in San Francisco.  I could not even find a picture of Matuzok which shows how much of a low profile he has kept over the years.

For the soldiers involved in the shootout the US tried to keep things very low profile as well.  This was because the Soviets had entered into discussions with the United States.  The fact that the Soviets did not react strongly to the defection was a sign to the Reagan administration that they were serious about those discussions.  In response the Reagan administration wanted to keep the shootout as low key as possible in order to not rub it into the faces of the Soviets.  However, there were some valor awards initially given out.  For example Captain Bert Mizusawa was recognized with the Bronze Star.  After the 1984 JSA shootout Mizusawa would go on to have a distinguished military career.  He retired as a Major General in 2013.  After retiring he got involved in politics and became a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign.

CPT Mizusawa recognized with a Bronze Star medal after the 1984 JSA Shootout.

The deceased PFC Chang and the wounded PFC Burgoyne were both recognized with Bronze Stars with Valor as well.  PFC Burgoyne who was shot in the face would eventually recover from his wounds:

PFC Burgoyne recovers from being shot in the face by a North Korean soldier.

However none of the soldiers who fought at the JSA that day received valor awards or were recognized with the Combat Infantrymen’s Badge (CIB).  The CIB is big honor for infantrymen to wear and at the time firefights at the DMZ were not included as part of the criteria for issuing it.  That policy did not change until 2000 when Congressional lobbying was able to get the regulations changed and all soldiers who fought that day in the JSA were recognized with CIBs.  They additionally could wear a combat patch on their right sleeve.  Furthermore various valor awards were issued as well.

The highest valor medal issued for the 1984 JSA shootout was the Silver Star that was awarded to members of Staff Sergeant Richard Lamb’s squad.  Lamb was the noncommissioned officer who led the QRF squad that assaulted through the Sunken Garden and forced the North Koreans to surrender to end the shootout.  SSG Lamb would go on to join the Special Forces, was wounded at the Battle of Mogadishu, and ended his career serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major in 2003.

Photo By Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence | Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Lamb receives the 2015 USSOCOM Bull Simons award from Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander U.S. Special Operations Command, May 20, Tampa, Fla. The Bull Simons Award is named in honor Army Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons and is given for lifetime achievements in Special Operations. (USSOCOM photo by Tech. Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

Not every soldier was able to receive their valor award in 2000.  Private First Class Mark Deville was a member of the squad that the Pentagon could not track down to award a medal to.  He was working as a prison guard in Florida at the time and had lost contact with his old military buddies.  It wasn’t until 2014 that Deville did a Google search of himself and found that he had been awarded a Silver Star for his combat actions 30 years ago during the JSA shootout.

General Martin Dempsey poses with Mark Deville shortly after he is awarded the Silver Star on January 28, 2014.


Today the events of the November 23, 1984 shootout at the JSA are remembered with an annual ceremony.  During these annual ceremonies flowers are laid at a memorial marker at the JSA in remembrance of Private First Class Chang Myong-ki.

United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area Soldiers honored Korean Augmentee to the U.S. Army Cpl. Jang Myong-ki, who died protecting a Soviet defector in 1984. (Photo Credit: Cpl. Park Youngho, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

Chang’s parents and other family members often attend the annual ceremony.  Soldiers who were at the JSA that day have also attended the ceremony as well.  For example the then Major General Bert Mizusawa attended one of the ceremonies in 2011.  Here is what he had to say about the significance of the events that day:

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bert Mizusawa, right, talks Nov. 23, 2011, with Jang Chun Ki after a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of a 1984 firefight at the Demilitarized Zone. Jang’ss brother, Jang Myung-ki, was killed in the 40-minute standoff between soldiers from North Korea and the United Nations Command. JON RABIROFF/STARS AND STRIPES

“The firefight was, in many ways, the last hot battle of the Cold War fought between a Soviet proxy and the U.S.-Korean alliance that was proudly embodied in the bravery and sacrifice of the young two-man team of Jang and Burgoyne,” he said. “For that, all members past and present of this great unit, and the Jang family, should be … proud.

“While their actions were very brief … the consequences of their actions I think will earn a significant place in our world history,” he continued.

Mizusawa went on to explain that diaries released in recent years suggest that then-President Ronald Reagan was surprised by how the Soviet Union reacted to “the unheralded 1984 Soviet defector incident” and, as a result, he was inspired to take a “hardline stance” toward the U.S. adversary which “accelerated the demise of the Soviet empire and helped end the Cold War.”

“This defector incident confirmed to our strong-willed president at the time that he should face down the Soviet leadership,” said Mizusawa, who now serves as deputy director for strategic initiatives for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  [Stars & Stripes]

I think it is good that the Pentagon has recognized the soldiers who fought that day with the appropriate valor awards and recognition.  I also think it is great the JSA security battalion continues to honor the memory of PFC Jang who was killed in the JSA shootout.  However, what I think is still missing is a heartfelt thank you from Vasily Matuzok.  If he is still alive, Matuzok would be in mid-50’s by now, I really think he owes it to Jang Myung-ki’s family and the JSA veterans that served that day to attend one of these ceremonies.  At the ceremony he should thank everyone who put it all on the line for him that day.  In PFC Jang’s case he gave all he had so Matuzok could live in freedom in the United States.  This is a heavy burden that hopefully Matuzok has never forgotten because clearly the veterans stationed at the JSA on November 23, 1984 have never forgotten and neither should he.

Further Reading:

South Korea Warns North Korea to Not Repeat Armistice Violations at the JSA

I am willing to bet that if a similar situation at the JSA were to play out again the North Koreans will probably commit bigger armistice violations by going across the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and try to drag the defector back.  In such a case would the US and ROK troops shoot at them?  I hope this is a response the JSA guards are trained to execute if need be:

North Korea violated an armistice agreement with South Korea this month when North Korean soldiers shot and wounded a North Korean soldier as he defected across their border and it must not do so again, South Korea’s defense minister said on Monday.

The defector, a North Korean soldier identified only by his surname, Oh, was critically wounded but has been recovering in hospital in South Korea.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons program, but the North has not publicly responded to the defection at the sensitive border.

South Korean Minister of Defence Song Young-moo issued his warning to the North while on a visit to the border where he commended South Korean soldiers at a Joint Security Area (JSA), in the so-called Truce Village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone, for rescuing the defector.

A North Korean border guard briefly crossed the border with the South in the chase for the defector on Nov. 13 – a video released by the U.N. Command (UNC) in Seoul showed – a violation of the ceasefire accord between North and South at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Shooting towards the South at a defecting person, that’s a violation of the armistice agreement,” Song said.  [Reuters]

You can read more at the link.

Picture of the Day: Part of the DMZ Fence Displayed in Seoul

Barbed wire fence from DMZ relocated to downtown Seoul

This photo, taken on Nov. 23, 2017, shows a barbed wire fence, which was inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, relocated to Gwanghwaun Plaza in Seoul. The fence will be set up at the venue of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics after people attach ribbons carrying their wishes for peace to it. (Yonhap)

North Korean Soldier Who Defected Across the DMZ Will Survive, But Was In Very Poor Health Before Being Shot

The North Korean soldier shot while defecting to South Korea across the JSA will live.  However, his poor medical condition before he was even shot is drawing increased scrutiny in South Korea:

The revelation that the man had a severe parasitic infection — Lee said he had never seen such a case except in medical textbooks — and that his stomach contained raw corn kernels prompted widespread shock in South Korea. North Korean front-line soldiers were supposed to be elite troops, yet this man had worms not seen in South Korea since the 1970s and had been eating uncooked corn?

Oh also has tuberculosis and hepatitis B, Lee said. And, at 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds, he is several inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the average male 18-year-old South Korean.

There is intense interest in the soldier, and military intelligence officers reportedly are eager to question him about his escape, but Lee has been fending them off. The soldier is showing signs of depression and post-traumatic stress, and it will take about a month before he is well enough to answer questions, the doctor said.  [Washington Post]

You can read the rest at the link, but just think there are 25 million people in North Korea with probably many other bad health conditions which will need to be considered in a unification scenario.

By the way the soldier’s trauma surgeon Lee Cook-jong is a bit of celebrity in South Korea:

This is not Lee’s first time in the spotlight. The surgeon became a national hero in 2011 when he saved the life of a ship captain who had been shot by Somali pirates.

After pirates seized a chemical freighter near the Gulf of Aden in 2011, South Korean commandos stormed the ship and the pirates shot the captain six times during the rescue attempt.

Lee was waiting at a hospital in Oman and saved the captain’s life, earning a reputation as the country’s leading trauma surgeon. There was even a popular medical drama based on this story, “Golden Time.” The title was a reference to Lee’s frequent reminder that it is the hour after a severe injury that is most important for saving someone’s life.  [Washington Post]

Picture of the Day: Thanksgiving at the Joint Security Area

Soldiers and family members at Camp Bonifas, South Korea enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal served by Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea commander, a Nov. 23. The meal offered customary Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing, but also various other options and commanders commonly serve their Soldiers during the holidays as a thanks for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.(Photo by Staff Sgt. David Chapman, USFK)  [USFK Facebook]

Joint Security Area Soldiers Presented ARCOMs for Rescuing North Korean Defector

This will probably be an award these soldiers will remember for the rest of their lives considering the unusual circumstances leading to the award and who presented it to them:

In recognition for their efforts in rescuing a North Korean defector, Nov.13, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea commander, awarded Joint Security Area Soldiers the Army Commendation medal, during a ceremony Nov. 23.

Awardees are Sgt. 1st Class Noh Yeong Soo, Sgt. 1st Class Song Seoung Hyeon, Sgt. Robert Hartfield, Maj. Jeffery Schmidt, Lt. Col. Kwon Young Hwan, and Lt. Col. Matthew Farmer  [USFK Facebook]

You can watch video of the award presentation at this link on the USFK Facebook site as well.  Basically the soldiers received an ARCOM because they were able to pull the North Korean defector to safety while at the same not escalating the situation or violating the armistice like the North Korean soldiers had already done.

United Nations Command Releases Video of Defection Through the Joint Security Area

These finding are unsurprising based off what has already been reported about this incident:

A North Korean soldier runs toward the south side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) after getting out of a vehicle stuck along a row of JSA buildings in this surveillance camera footage released by the United Nations Command, Wednesday. / Courtesy of United Nations Command

North Korean troops violated an armistice agreement last week when they were chasing a fellow soldier defecting to South Korea through the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the truce village of Panmunjeom, the United Nations Command (UNC) announced Wednesday.

Releasing video clips lasting around seven minutes showing the incident, the UNC said the (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA) violated the Armistice Agreement twice when its border security guards fired weapons across the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) after the defector had entered the South and when one KPA soldier temporarily crossed the line for a few seconds.  [Korea Times]

Here are the details of the incident:

Closed-circuit television footage the UNC released starts with the defector approaching in a vehicle across the 72-hour Bridge, with the CCTV timeline that reads “2017-11-13 15:11.”

After the vehicle driven by the defector in a KPA uniform became stuck along a row of JSA buildings, he got out and ran south across the MDL.

While the defector was running south, four North Korean guards, armed with pistols and rifles, engaged him with direct fire, during which time some of the gunshots flew over the MDL, and one soldier briefly crossed the line before returning back to the north side of the JSA.

Separate footage from a thermal observation device showed two members of South Korea’s JSA security battalion crawling along the ground to recover the wounded defector lying against a wall, while one member covered the retreat, prior to his evacuation for medical treatment.

The UNC said its investigation team determined JSA security battalion personnel took appropriate actions during the incident, which resulted in a “de-escalation of tension and no loss of life.”

You can read more at the link and below is the video:

The biggest take away I saw from the video was that I was surprised the North Koreans had no vehicle checkpoints on the way to their side of the JSA.  This soldier came very close to being able to drive across the Military Demarcation Line within the JSA if his vehicle did not get stuck.  I would imagine vehicle checkpoints have since been put into place by the North Koreans to prevent this from happening again.

DMZ Flashpoints: The 1983 Hijacking of CAAC Flight 296 to Camp Page


There has been some strange incidents over the years involving the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but one of the weirdest was when a hijacked Chinese airliner crossed over the DMZ on May 5, 1983 and landed at the US Army base Camp Page.  This was the first successful hijacking of a Chinese plane that ultimately ended up leading to the thawing of relations between South Korea and China.

Example of a CAAC Trident Jet that was hijacked. 

The Hijacking

The hijacked plane was a British made Trident jet that was part of China’s state owned airline called the Civilian Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).  The plane CAAC Flight 296 was making a routine domestic flight between Shenyang in northeast China and Shanghai with 96 passengers and 9 crew members on board when it was seized by 6 hijackers.  The hijackers were composed of five men and one woman who were armed with pistols and led by a man named An Weijian.  They used their weapons to blast open the door to the cockpit where during a skirmish for control of the plane a total of eight shots were fired wounding two crew members in the legs.  After successfully taking control of the aircraft the Chinese hijackers demanded to be flown to Taiwan where they hoped to defect.

Possibly fearing retribution from the Chinese government if he complied with the hijackers demands, the pilot did not fly the plane towards Taiwan, the pilot instead flew the plane towards Pyongyang.  1983 was during the Cold War when tensions were high and the pilot deciding to fly the airliner into North Korean airspace was a risky move.  He had no way of knowing how the North Koreans would react to an unannounced aircraft suddenly flying over their country.

The North Koreans initially reacted by monitoring the aircraft by radar.  However, since they were informed that it was a Chinese civilian airliner they took a wait and see approach with the aircraft.  The North Korea ground controllers may have even been working in concert with the pilot to dupe the hijackers since the North Korean Air Force did not dispatch any planes to intercept the airliner.  As the airliner approached Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport one of the hijackers noticed a big picture of North Korea’s leader, Kim Il-sung which tipped them off that they were being fooled by the pilot.  The hijackers forced the plane to divert the landing and instead head to South Korea.

After the aborted landing this is when the people on the airliner got very lucky.  It is likely that the North Korean government would want to stop this airliner from crossing the DMZ and entering South Korea.  However, the North Korean air defense authorities could not get a hold of the Kim Il-sung to authorize the shoot down of the aircraft.

Then, one of the hijackers detected something amiss when he saw a North Korean sign _ a big portrait of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North and its then leader _ as the plane was approaching Pyongyang airport. The hijackers threatened the pilot at gunpoint, forcing him to abort the landing and head to the South. It landed at U.S. Camp Page in Chunchun, in the South’s Gangwon Province. Now, it took about 20 minutes for the the British-made HS121Trident aircraft to fly from Pyongyang to Chunchon with the North Korean air defense all but paralyzed.

The North Korean air defense commander was reprimanded for his failure to respond according to the manual for such an emergency. But he was spared from a firing squad because he tried without success to locate Kim Il-sung to gain his clearance to go after the aircraft as the regulations stipulated. Kim was out of touch and nobody except for him could make a decision about such a situation.  [Korea Times]

Due to the command paralyzation in North Korea, the Chinese airliner was able to safely cross the DMZ where it landed at the US military base of Camp Page outside the city of Chuncheon:

Hijackers Give Themselves Up at Camp Page

After the plane crossed over the DMZ it was intercepted by ROK Air Force fighter jets.  The pilot moved his wing left to right which is a signal of defection.  The ROK fighters escorted the plane towards the military airfield at Camp Page.  Once the plane landed at Camp Page negotiations with ROK authorities began with the hijackers to release the crew and passengers.  The hijackers eventually agreed to release the hostages where the two wounded crewmen were immediately taken to a hospital in Seoul for medical attention.  The remaining crew and passengers were put up at a luxury hotel in eastern Seoul.  Shortly after releasing the hostages the hijackers were taken into custody by ROK authorities without incident after requesting political asylum in Taiwan.  The Taiwanese government responded by saying they welcome “anyone aboard who desires to come to our home country.”

After taking the ROK authorities took the hijackers into custody, the Chinese government demanded the plane, passengers, and hijackers all be returned to China.  This is where things were tricky because at the time time South Korea and China did not have official diplomatic relations due to its decades long animosity of Chinese support to North Korea during the Korean War.  South Korea responded to the Chinese demands by saying they would respect the “spirit” of the 1970 Convention of the Hague which outlawed skyjackings without saying what they would do with the six hijackers.


Two days after the hijacking a 33 person Chinese delegation arrived in Seoul led by the CAAC Director Shen Tu. Through negotiations the Chinese and the ROK agreed to the return of the plane, its crew, and all Chinese passengers back to China.  The hijackers however would be subject to Korean law.  At the time it was a good compromise to resolve the dispute.  While negotiations were going on the passengers were warmly received by the Koreans.  During their time in South Korea the Chinese passengers were put on a sightseeing tour, received lavish meals, gifts, and entertainment.  The overall bill came up to over $28,000.  The three Japanese passengers on the plane however did not get to enjoy the lavish treatment, there were immediately returned to Japan the day after the hijacking.

Five days after the incident on May 10, 1983 all the passengers and crew were returned to South Korea and two weeks after the incident the Trident plane was returned as well:

A Chinese passenger plane hijacked to South Korea two weeks ago left for home Wednesday, ending an incident that led to the first official contact between China and South Korea.

The British-made Trident jetliner of China’s state airline, CAAC, left Seoul’s Kimpo International Airport at 10 a.m. with 13 people aboard.

Among the passengers was a radio operator who was one of two crew members wounded May 5 when five men and a woman armed with two pistols hijacked the plane to South Korea in the first hijacking of a jetliner out of China.

The plane’s 96 passengers and eight other crew members returned home May 10.  [UPI]

The crew and passengers when they arrived in China were greeted with the same type of welcome they received in South Korea.  Approximately two hundred weeping well wishers were present for their arrival and presented them with flowers.  They then met with politicians and then attended a reception to welcome them back to China.


The return of the plane and passengers officially ended the dispute between the ROK and China, however the South Koreans still needed to prosecute the six hijackers they held in custody.  The hijackers received incredibly light sentences by receiving less than a year in jail before being resettled in Taiwan to a heroes welcome:

In 1983, six Chinese hijacked a plane to South Korea. They were imprisoned for less than a year and resettled in Taiwan, where they received heroes’ welcomes.  [Deseret News]

The punishment for the hijackers is probably what bothers me the most about this story.  They hijacked a plane, put the lives of the 96 passengers at risk, and shot two crew members, but their punishment was receiving less than a year in jail.  The political situation should have been put aside at the time and these hijackers should have been harshly dealt with to prevent future hijackings.


The aftermath of the CAAC Flight 296 hijacking did have some important ramifications.  First of all is that the hijacking showed how initiative within the North Korean military is held back because of the centralized control of the regime.  This incident also proved how North Korea did not have an adequate system in place to contact the top leadership in case of an emergency.  I would not be surprised if initiative in the North Korean military even today is still stifled because of the extreme controls the Kim regime needs to keep in place to control the country.  However, with the modern technology available today it is likely that the North Koreans have quicker access to its top leadership to make decisions if needed.

This hijacking also became a turning point for ROK and Chinese relations.  After the hijacking the two countries who had long been suspicious of each other, began a series of exchanges in sports, industry, and international conference attendance.  These positives events eventually led to South Korea severing relations with Taiwan in 1992 and officially establishing diplomatic ties with China on August 24, 1992.  Since then China has gone on to become South Korea’s #1 trade partner.  It is interesting to think that modern Chinese relations with South Korea began with a botched hijacking.