The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established with the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953. It was agreed upon that the DMZ would separated the two Koreas by creating a buffer zone four kilometers wide across the width of the 151 mile wide Korean peninsula. This buffer zone would be created in roughly the same positions that the warring parties had ended the conflict at. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) would be the official border between the two countries while the two kilometers of the buffer zone to the north of the MDL would be monitored by North Korea while the two kilometers of the buffer zone of the south of the MDL would be monitored by South Korea. It was further agreed upon that no opposing force would enter the territory, air space, or contiguous waters under the control of the other country.
The United States military used to monitor the area of the DMZ north of the Imjim River with the 2nd Infantry Division as well as along the Chorwon corridor with the 7th Infantry Division. The 7th Infantry Division with redeployed in Korea in the 1970’s leaving the 2nd Infantry Division to continue their monitoring of the DMZ north of the Imjim River. The 2nd Infantry Division ultimately gave up the sole responsibility of monitoring the DMZ north of the Imjim River in the 1980’s and has now handed over all responsibilities for monitoring the demilitarized zone to the Korean Army. Besides the monitoring of the DMZ by the ROK Army a small contingent of civil police authorized by the armistice man 114 guard posts that monitor activity on the DMZ. The DMZ Civil Police also man two guard posts that overlook the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) housed at the Swiss/Swedish Camp, the Joint Security Area (JSA), and Tae Song Dong.
Military Armistice Commission
The Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was formed to be a body that would have the responsibility to negotiate any violations of the Armistice Agreement. This job was increasingly important over the years as the North Koreans have repeatedly violated the Armistice. From 1953 to 1994 the MAC was composed of a UNC component and a North Korean/Chinese component. Each component is comprised of five senior officers. Three of the officers must be the rank of general or a flag officer of some kind. The two remaining officers must be at least a colonel. During an official MAC meeting only the senior officer on each side can speak. The meetings are held inside one of the blue UN buildings situated on the MDL at the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom.
Image of a MAC meeting in 1990 via Wikipedia.
Anything spoken during these MAC meetings must be read in three languages, English, Korean and Chinese. The meetings also follow very strict guidelines, which further makes the meetings proceed at an extremely slow pace. The last official MAC meeting was held in 1991. Since then the North Koreans have refused to participate in an official MAC meeting because a South Korean general was appointed as the senior member of the UNC component. In 1994 in violation of the Armistice the North Koreans withdrew from the MAC altogether.
The United Nations Command Military Advisory Committee (UNCMAC) Secretariat is responsible for ensuring that United Nations Command (UNC) units comply with the 1953 armistice. The UNCMAC is responsible for investigating and reporting on any violation of the armistice on either side of the DMZ. Military personnel from either side of the border are not authorized to cross the MDL. Only the NNSC and a small number UNCMAC personnel are authorized to cross the MDL on certain occasions. The UNCMAC is also responsible for providing translators as well as scheduling official MAC meetings.
However, with the withdrawal of the North Koreans from the MAC in 1994 the UNCMAC has shifted from its primary administrative role to being the main channel of communication between the two sides. The UNCMAC Secretariat meetings held between the two sides which is supposed to be for administrative reasons has now turn into quasi MAC meetings with the secretariats now discussing things such as Armistice violations, the transfer of detained personnel, as well as the return of remains of deceased personnel on each side.
Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) was established by the Armistice Agreement as an independent, fact-finding body outside of the MAC, but responsible for reporting to the MAC. The NNSC is composed of four senior officers from four nations that did not participate in the Korean War. Each side chooses two of the officers that will compose the NNSC. Historically officers from Switzerland and Sweden composed the UNC side while officers from Poland and Czechoslovakia formed the North Korean side.
The NNSC was originally formed to investigate Armistice violations outside of the DMZ. This was intended to ensure both sides maintain a military status quo which existed when the ceasefire was signed. However, North Korea regularly prohibited NNSC teams from investigating in North Korea. Due to pressure from North Korea Czechoslovakia withdrew from the NNSC in 1993 and Poland withdrew in 1995. The Swiss and Swedish team remains and they continue to meet weekly to discuss reports from the UNC side in regards to Armistice issues. Despite this, the NNSC’s role on the DMZ is largely ceremonial.
Joint Security Area (JSA)
With the creation of the various bodies to manage the Armistice Agreement an area was needed to conduct the every day business of these bodies. Thus it was agreed upon that a Joint Security Area (JSA) at the village of Panmunjom where the Armistice negotiations took place, would be created.
The JSA is roughly 800 meters wide and is roughly circular in shape and bisected by the Military Demarcation Line. The MAC buildings where negotiations and meetings are held in are painted blue and divided down the middle by the MDL.
Conference tables are set up within the buildings and bisected by the MDL.
The JSA also has a building on each side of the MDL that serves as the Joint Duty Office. Since the senior officers that compose each component of the MAC are based in Seoul for the UNC and in Kaesong for the North Koreans they leave liason officers at all times at the JSA that work out of the Joint Duty Offices. These JDOs pass messages from the MAC to the secretaries on the other side of the JSA. Military policemen only are used to guard the JSA. Each side may only have 35 military policemen on duty in the JSA at one time. These policemen are also allowed to maintain an administrative area in the JSA. The NNSC is also allowed to keep an administrative area at the JSA to conduct meetings in as well.
The most forward deployed base in all of United States Forces Korea is Camp Bonifas:
The camp was established after the Korean War to support operations at the Joint Security Area. Camp Bonifas is located approximately 400 meters south of the JSA and was originally called Camp Kitty Hawk. The name of the camp was changed after two American officers, Captain Arthur G. Bonifas and First Lieutenant Mark T. Barrett were murdered by North Korean soldiers in the infamous “Axe Murder Incident”. After the attack the camp was renamed in honor of CPT Bonifas.
The camp is home to the soldiers of the United Nations Command Security Force. The Korean and American soldiers that compose this battalion-sized element are responsible for the 24-hour security of the United Nations Command personnel and their guests that are working at or visiting the JSA.
The unit is also responsible for controlling the entry and exit of all vehicle and personnel into the area along with providing security for the Korean civilians that live within the Tae Song Dong farming village (Freedom Village) that lies within the DMZ. Finally the soldiers are also responsible for conducting tours of the JSA for both civilians and military personnel. The tours are available in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Roughly 100,000 people conduct a tour of the JSA annually. If you live in Korea and have not done one of these tours I highly recommend you do so. Probably the most unusual aspect of Camp Bonifas is that it is home to what is called the “world’s most dangerous golf course” by Sports Illustrated since the one hole course has minefields around it.
Today US and Korean soldiers continue to serve “In Front of Them All” as the battalion’s motto goes. Even though tensions continue between the two countries, major incidents on the DMZ have greatly diminished in recent years.
Image of Camp Bonifas front gate via Wikipedia.
The base with the main combat power to support DMZ operations is Camp Greaves located just to the south of Camp Bonifas on the north side of the Imjim River:
The camp is named after Corporal Clinton Greaves of Company C, 9th U.S. Cavalry, who fought off a band of Apaches in 1879 to save fellow cavalrymen. Camp Greaves was founded by the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War in 1953. After the war the Marines used the camp as a patrol base to monitor the DMZ from. After Marines left they were replaced by various units over the years to include the 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion; the 3rd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division; the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division; and various 2nd Infantry Division battalions. The last 2ID unit stationed on Camp Greaves was the 1-506 Infantry Regiment. The 1-506th had been stationed on Camp Greaves since 1987 and their unit motto was “Stands Alone”, which I always found funny considering the thousands of ROK soldiers stationed nearby. With that said when the 1-506th was stationed in Korea I always found them to be a very high speed and motivated unit whenever I worked with them. Camp Greaves was closed in 2004 as part of the USFK transformation plan. After its closure half the camp was handed over to the ROK Army’s 1st Infantry Division and the other half is slated to become a $40 million DMZ theme park that is scheduled to open in 2018.
After its closure Camp Greaves like other Western Corridor camps has been the subject of protests though the protests around Camp Greaves is different from the left wing environmentalists that have been protesting other camps. The Camp Greaves protesters are from the Paju area who want the land the camp sits on to be given to the local government for development and not given to the ROK Army.
Warrior Base is located near the Unification Bridge on the northern side of the DMZ. The base is used to house range control for the various firing ranges located around the DMZ area in the Western Corridor as well providing tent and barracks housing for units training in the area.
Here is a picture of Warrior Base which I have fond memories of spending nights in the tents there while training on the DMZ:
Tae Song Dong & Kichong-dong Villages
The DMZ includes two villages authorized by a subsequent agreement to the Armistice that ended the war. One village is Tae Song Dong (Freedom Village) on the South Korean side and the second village is Kichong-dong (Propaganda Village) on the North Korean side of the DMZ. Tae Song Dong is located about half a kilometer southwest of the JSA while Kichong is located about a half kilometer northwest of the JSA. Here is a Google Earth image of Tae Song Dong:
Residency in Tae Song Dong is strictly controlled. Only original inhabitants of the village or their direct descendants may live in the village. Kichong-dong on the other hand appears to be a normal village by day with North Koreans working in the fields but at night the workers are bussed to where they live in the nearby city of Kaesong. Only a small custodial staff actually lives in the village. Kichong-dong is referred to by UNC soldiers as “Propaganda Village” due to the loud broadcasts of propaganda blasted from speakers in the village over the years. Here is a Google Earth image of the Propaganda Village:
Here is a a picture of the “Propaganda Village” as seen from the South Korean side of the DMZ:
The Bridge of No Return
Located in the Joint Security Area is the Bridge of No Return. This bridge received this name because in 1953 prisoners of war from the allied nations, the Koreas, and China were given the one time option of returning to their home countries. When one walked across the bridge they could not return thus giving the bridge its name The Bridge of No Return.
Besides being the setting for the swapping of POWs the bridge was also the scene of the Axe Murder Incident on August 18, 1976 that saw two American officers brutally killed by North Korean soldiers while trying to trim a tree. The murder of these two officers nearly led to war on the peninsula as the US brought in extra ground, air, and naval power to the peninsula to cut down the tree.
Before the Korean War two side by side railway bridges extended across the Imjim River that were used for rail traffic between the then South Korean city of Kaesong and the capitol city of Seoul. However during the surprise North Korean attack against the Republic of Korea launched on June 25, 1950 the South Korean military failed to destroy the bridges. The explosives on the bridges had failed to explode and the North Korean military quickly captured the bridges, which greatly aided the speed of their assault south on Seoul. One of the bridges was destroyed in 1951 as the allies marched north against both the North Koreans and the Chinese forces that had entered the war. The allies were able to successfully capture the last remaining bridge across the Imjim in late 1951.
Freedom Bridge which crossed the Imjim River during the Korean War via Defense Media.
This bridge took on increased importance as peace talks began at the village of Panmunjom just north of the Imjim River. The bridge was refurbished to handle the increased amount of traffic that flowed back and forth from Panmujom every day. On February 16, 1952 the refurbishing was complete and the bridge officially became known as Freedom Bridge. The bridge lived up to its moniker when allied POWs were returned to South Korea after the signing of the Armistice Agreement and they crossed this bridge by ambulance on their return to a reception station set up at Munsan. This route from Panmunjom across the bridge became known as Liberty Lane afterwards.
Freedom Bridge today.
On June 15, 1998 a four-lane bridge dubbed the Tongil (Unification) Bridge was opened across the Imjim River in response to increased traffic to the north side of the Imjim River. The opening of the Tongil Bridge has caused Freedom Bridge to be largely unused today, but it still stands as a testament to the days of the Korean War.
Illegal North Korean Tunnels
In the 1970’s North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung ordered his divisions along the Demilitarized Zone to each dig and maintain two tunnels that infiltrated into South Korea. Evidence of this plan became evident until 1974. On the morning of November 15, 1974, a ROK Army patrol in the west-central sector of the DMZ noted steam rising from the ground. They thought they had found evidence of a hot spring and began digging to see if they had indeed found one.
Instead of a hot spring they found a tunnel that was a mere 18 inches below the surface. While excavating the site the South Korean patrol began to take fire from a North Korean guard post. The patrol began to return fire back at the North Koreans to cover their retreat away from the area. Fortunately no one was injured in the exchange of fire. The South Koreans returned with a larger force to further excavate the site and discovered that the tunnel ran from North Korea and extended one kilometer into South Korea before it was discovered by the patrol. The tunnel was reinforced with concrete slabs, had electric power, weapons storage, sleeping areas, and even a narrow gauge rail line with carts. It was believed that the tunnel was big enough to hold one regiment of soldiers at a time which would have allowed the North Koreans to infiltrate an entire division into South Korea in a matter of hours.
On November 20th as a United Nations MAC team investigated the site, an investigation that the North Korean UNCMAC members refused to participate in, a North Korean explosive booby trap went off killing two MAC investigators, US Navy Commander Robert M. Ballinger and ROK Marine Corps Major Kim Hah Chul. Five more US soldiers and one ROK Army soldier were injured in the blast. Commander Ballinger was the first US casualty on the DMZ since 1969. Just a few months later on March 19, 1975 another tunnel was discovered approximately eight miles northeast of Chorwon. Excavation of the tunnel found that the tunnel was two meters high, less then two meters wide, and about 2,300 meters in length with 1000 meters of the tunnel extending into South Korea. The North Koreans denied digging the tunnel and claimed the South Koreans dug it themselves.
On October 17, 1978 another tunnel was discovered under the DMZ. The prior two tunnels had been in relatively isolated locations however this tunnel was different because it was dug only four kilometers from Panmunjom along the main invasion route into South Korea. Similar to the prior tunnels this tunnel was created with a two by two interior and could have been used to infiltrate thousands of soldiers into South Korea. Of course the North Koreans denied any knowledge of constructing the tunnel. The fourth North Korean tunnel was discovered on March 3, 1990 northeast of the small city of Yanggu in the remote Punchbowl area of Gangwon province. Surprisingly a week later the North Koreans actually admitted to constructing the tunnel in order to “facilitate peaceful reunification”.
Picture of entrance to the 4th entrance tunnel via Wikipedia.
I hope everyone enjoyed this profile of the Western section of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. If you haven’t visited Panmunjom while in South Korea I highly recommend you do so. It is a fascinating place to see that many US military servicemembers and their ROK counterparts over the years have kept safe for visitors. Likewise these same servicemembers have helped keep the ROK safe from North Korean provocations and invasions with their service on freedom’s frontier on the Western Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Note: You can read more from the ROK Drop featured series “A Profile of USFK Bases” at the below link:
Thanks GI. I am going to print this out for a young friend of mine who is interested in the DMZ how the US Army maintains a presence in Korea.
Photos and comments on the most spectacular in the world south korean wall in the DMZ are missing.
Besides several typos (minor issue), I noticed that the description of Camp Bonifas states that the camp is “located approximately 400 meters south of the JSA”. The camp is actually approximately 100 meters from the southern boundary of the DMZ, which since the JSA is in the middle of the 4km wide DMZ, would mean the camp is approximately 2000m from the JSA.
A small correction, but one I’ve been making comments on ever since the Axe Murder Incident, when the official US Army report stated that the (QRF) “Rescue SQuad” (actually a platoon), was over a mile away from the DMZ at the time of the incident, when the Camp wasn’t even a mile away from the DMZ, and at the time of the incident, the QRF Platoon was at the QRF site about 300m away, and then sat at CP#2 (the entrance to the JSA) while the 3rd Plt. leader waited for orders from Capt. Bonifas (who was already dead) to enter the JSA. Finally LTC Vierra arrived at CP#2 from Camp Kitty Hawk and ordered the 3rd Plt. into the JSA, so at no time was anybody ever “over a mile away from the DMZ”.
Thanks for this very thorough overview, I really enjoyed reading it.
I am a 1.5 gen and while growing up in Korea, I distinctly remember that axe incident and the odd feeling of uneasiness that fell on our household. I was too young to fully comprehend what exactly occurred but just remember the elders being really cautious…much more than usual.
I was at Osan AB for two years. Arrived after the murder of the two officers but there was still a lot of uneasiness, the Air Base was still on alert. I was also there during the discovery of the third tunnel. This was a big dill in Korea at the time, but made very little news in the US.
[…] versa. I’ll spare you the history lesson about Korea’s DeMilitarized Zone – but ROK Drop’s post is detailed, accurate, and full of win. Suffice it to say that the sites you’ll see are […]
The original name of Camp Bonifas was Advance Camp. It was then renamed Camp Kitty Hawk and finally Camp Bonifas.
I had heard many of these terms, places, incidence mentioned when I was there in ’83 at Camp Pelham (later named Gary Owen) but I can appreciate much of this information in a clearer context after reading your post. You have a way of making information entertaining to read while not diminishing the seriousness of some of these events.
Very good perspective of the Korean DMZ. Some facts presented are disputable, but otherwise great source of information and good pictures. Congratulations to the one who put this together and best wishes for you in the future.
With the passing of the NK president Kim Jong-Il this week, it will be most interesting to see how things develop under the rule of Kim-Un, the expected new leader of the North.
Bill is correct in his remarks, above–and he should know, since he was there at the time.
Another small correction: the Google Earth “pin” for Camp Bonifas is actually on the edge of the helipad between it and Camp Liberty Bell. Camp Bonifas (formerly Advance Camp) is south of the road–unless all the new buildings just to the west of the pin have been incorporated into the compound since 1976. Thanks for posting.
HALF of Camp Bonifas is created from the old Camp Kitty Hawk, the other half is from Camp Liberty Bell, which of course sat diagonally across the road from Kitty Hawk and was the Advance Camp for the Forward Most Deployed Infantry Company (Co A) in the forward most deployed Inafantry Battalion in the US Army (1st Bn 9th Inf Manchu) in my day 79-81. LOL We were the Po’ COuntry Cousins that everyone forgets about right across the road. We wasnt fancy, we were just the ones that kept everyone else on the Z from getting thier asses flattenned by the entire KPA before help could arrive from the REMF’s.
I wish I had spent more time touring these historic monuments during my time in the ROK. The two incidents that stick out in my mind were the 9/11 lockdown and the two school girls who were accidentally run over.
I was stationed at Camp Casey 1978-1979 and we were constantly on alert, they were finding tunnels then.I always felt the ground shaking. I have alot of bad memories from the 13 months I spent there.It’s a SHAME…..
I was stationed at PanMumJom as a military policeman from 1964 to 1965. I loved my duty there even though at times it was scary. I can’t remember a night that we didn’t hear gun fire or those damn speakers. We got a lot of respect from Korean’s wherever we went. They respected that United Nations patch and the men who wore it.
I was stationed at Panmunjom during the USS Pueblo incident march 1968.My MOS is 11B10 and by April I remember getting paid a combat pay.The damn speakers are still there.I was awarded with a bayonet badge, for crossing the demarcation line.
Is there anyone there who was stationed in the same place and time range? please I want to hear from you.
[…] spare you the history lesson about Korea’s DMZ – but ROK Drop’s post is detailed, accurate, and full of win. Suffice it to say that the sites you’ll see are […]
Thanks for posting this–It brought back memories of my day at the DMZ while participating in Team Spirit in the late 1980s as a MSgt. with the Army Reserve’s 302nd Public Affairs Unit from Los Alamitos, L.A. Co., CA.
There was an incident in 1977 2chinooks on a training excersise collided in the Z several we’re killed and one survived. NK returned them to us a couple of weeks later.
Would have liked to see a little love for Fire Base 4P3. Everyone stationed from JSA to Freedom Bridge knew that we had their back. Was stationed at Camp Pelham from 90-91 during the first Gulf War and did 3-4 rotations up there. Remember celebrating Cristmas and New Years (no booze of course)shadowing the grunt patrols with our 155mm towed howitzers. GUNS OF THE DMZ!!!
[…] spare you the history lesson about Korea’s DMZ – but ROK Drop’s post is detailed, accurate, and full of win. Suffice it to say that the sites you’ll see are […]
I WAS STATIONED AT CAMP GREAVES IN 1976/1977 DURING THE AX MURDERS. THE PHOTOS SURE BRING BACK SOME GOOD MEMORIES.
ALL OVER DMZ 70 71 LOTS OF PATROLS OUT OF GP MARTIN.NOT TOO MUCH HEARD ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WERE ON GUARD POSTS.REMEMBER SEEING MDL SIGN AND BACKING UP REAL SLOW.IMJIN SCOUT FROM ACTA E5.ANYONE WITH PICS PLEASE SEND firstname.lastname@example.org
I was with the 7th inf div at camp honey and we patrolled the DMV in 64 and 65
I was stationed at Camp Stanley and the “First to Fire” 1st 15th FA from Oct 1979 – Jun 1980. I was a Forward observer and went to the DMZ three times and was involved in an international incedent on the DMZ when two 105′s were laid 1400 mils out of safe and we shot four rounds into North korea. What an experience it was!! 24 hours later I was in the air going home. Travis AB never looked better!! I was awarded the ARMY Accomidation medal for my actions as a PFC Gen Kingston looked surprised when he was pinning the medal on my chest and said “Damn Soldier, You are the yougest I have ever given this medal to” I am a proud Disabled Veteran and I want to thank you for your service……thnx me
I served with the 1/23 inf reg 2nd inf div at hhq co. Camp Young Korea, our duty was to patrol the dmz north of the injim river
I am researching the DMZ and trying to get clarity on the current status of the UNC-JSA force. Are there US Soldiers currently assigned to this unit conducting patrols along the DMZ?
Will try again had loss first attempt, had arrived at Casey 22 Jun 77 did the turtle farm thing then went I got to Hovey the 1/9th was getting ready to go to the DMZ so I was restricted to post and didn’t see Toko-ri until over a month later. Don’t know to today what part of the DMZ that we went to, one of the first patrols that I was getting ready to go on a 5.56 round whizzed by my head while still inside the compound, a Pfc who wasn’t supposed to even have the magazine in the well had sighted in on me with his starlight scope and squeezed off the round missing my head by inches, could hear the buzz sound as it went by.The PLT SGT come running and chewed his ass, saying son I will stick my foot so far up your ass I will have shit stained knee caps, I know that the SOP was that everybody inserted the magazine as you walked out the compound gate and only the point man and Squad leader actually chambered a round keeping the safety on, this is a true story and I know that it doesn’t even compare to combat but if that round would of been slightly to the right most likely it would of been said that dumb hillbilly from Kentucky done went and got himself killed the first month in country. Goes to show what that can happen.
u suck at typing this sux
A man is a man etc, not going to make this a hometown topic. When something happens that sticks in your mind like yesterday that was 35 plus years ago you tell it like it was and what was said. Don’t really care about your hip text u this u that. Never sucked and never will friend.
Unknown to a lot of people was a small unit based out of Yongsan. It was basically an engineer unit that did nothing but search for tunnels on the DMZ. This was in 78 when I was there. I was tasked to take my bulldozer to the DMZ to help look for the tunnel later discovered. However I was short and they sent someone else. When he came back about a week later he walked up and punched me. They sent him out into a area to dig trenches where they thought a tunnel might be. He kept hearing noises in front of his blade. He started to get off the dozer to inspect to see if something was wrong. Everybody started hollering and waving at him so he backed out of the area. They told him what he was hearing were landmines exploding and not to worry about it, but to keep a blade of dirt in front of the dozer at all times to be safe. He said it was the longest week of his life.
Left dmz 45 years ago today, may 21st. viet nam was the place but it was a roll of the dice for the guys on the z . most came home but not all