For those that have about a half hour it is well worth reading the entire recollections of a 13-month tour of duty in the 1975-1976 timeframe by Specialist William Ferguson in the Korean JSA. Something I learned from reading the recollections was how brutal the death of 1st Lieutenant Mark Barrett was during the DMZ Axe Murder Incident:
First Lieutenant Mark Barrett
Nobody knows what happened to Lt. Barrett, he’s nowhere to be seen (Later, after all the pictures are developed, he’s seen jumping over a retaining wall and heading down into the depression area between CP#3 and KPA#8). As people are climbing into the back of the deuce, and getting Capt. Bonifas’ body loaded up as well, several KPA guards try to grab them and pull them back out. Several guys beat some of them back with axe handles. Another KPA guard tries to climb into the deuce as well. One GI picks up a fire extinguisher, fires it into the KPA guards face, and when it’s empty, he picks it up over his head and throws it right at the KPA guard, catching him square in the forehead and snapping his head back. Finally, after every visible friendly is accounted for, both deuces (the one that carried the KSC workers and their security force, and the one that stayed with the regular CP#3 guards) leave the area and regroup. Lt. Barrett is missing, nobody can see him anywhere, and the guys who are up at OP#5 who first reported and filmed everything, have no idea where he’s at either. They say that after our personnel left, the Joe’s drag around 5 KPA bodies across the Bridge by picking up their heels (which they probably wouldn’t do if they were alive). Several other limp bodies are loaded into the KPA guard trucks, extent of injuries unknown. They stay on heightened alert for all KPA activity and for any sign of Lt. Barrett. They notice that the KPA guards at KPA#8 are taking turns going down into the depression between their checkpoint and CP#3. They stay a few minutes, come back up, and hand the axe to another guard, who then goes down into the depression. They say that after about an hour or so of this, they become just to suspicious and a jeep full of JSA personnel heads out to investigate. They head down into the depression and find what’s left of Lt. Barrett, though somehow he’s still alive. He’s immediately removed and medi-vac’d, but dies enroute.
End of unverified story as relayed to me by several 1st. Plt. members who were there. Taken in the context of the time, I have no reason to doubt anything they related to me. We were all pretty depressed, itching for payback, and lies or braggadocio would have been to easy to expose due to the amount of people involved and the pictures taken.
I remember when the alert first sounded. It was our off day, and I was downrange drinking in Sonju-Ri with a buddy. We asked an MP what was going on, and he said there was a fight at the JSA. We went to grab a taxi, and drove to Munsan so we could catch the next bus north. When we got to Freedom Bridge, we asked the MP checking ID’s for further news. He said that a couple people were hurt real bad, maybe dead, up at the JSA. During the ride up, I kept thinking to myself “Damnit. We were supposed to be the ones up there. They were supposed to trim the tree last week when we were up there!”. (I forget what the reason was, but for some reason, the original scheduled day for the tree trimming was delayed, from August 13th and instead it turned into a Security Officers Meeting.. Our Platoon was supposed to be the ones working the JSA on the original date.) An hour later (after the alert first sounded) we finally arrived at camp and were told by the gate guards at CP#1 when we arrived to get full field gear on, Capt. Bonifas was dead, several guys from 1st platoon were injured, and Lt. Barrett was missing.
A few hours later we were informed that they had recovered the body of Lt. Barret. He was found in the depression between CP#3 and KPA#8, cut to pieces by KPA guards who took turns for over an hour, going down into the depression with an axe, only to return later and hand the axe to another guard who would then disappear into the depression for awhile. Later that night I was in the NCO club and talking with one of the guys from 3rd Plt, who were on QRF that day. He was pissed, saying the whole time during the fight they sat at CP#2, while their Lt. waited for orders from Capt. Bonifas (who was already dead) to head into the JSA and provide help. This has always been neglected in every account I’ve ever read! Some accounts state that the QRF was a mile away, outside the DMZ, when the daytime QRF was only about 200 yards from CP#2, well inside the DMZ and almost within the JSA! General Singlaub’s book gives the impression that the QRF actually made it to the scene of the fighting, which it didn’t. Talking with several other members of 3rd Plt. that night seemed to verify the story. They all said that they waited around at CP#2 for their Lt. to receive authorization from Capt. Bonifas to enter. [Memories of the JSA]
I highly recommend reading the entire article at the link, but I can only imagine the horror that 1LT Barrett experienced having North Korean soldiers take turns for an hour hitting him with an axe. You would think the QRF would have immediately responded once word was out that a US officer was missing and not wait an hour to respond.
Operation Paul Bunyan was the response to these murders which William Ferguson provides a first-hand account of since he participated in the tree cutting detail which in a way was funny to read:
0700 hours. We roll into the JSA. The KPA can officially see us. Normally, they’d just be getting ready to open up KPA#7 and 8, but today was planned to minimize contact and we arrive about 45 minutes earlier than usual, so those checkpoints aren’t manned yet. The KPA guards across the Bridge don’t see us until we are almost to the tree. PFC Exum pulls up next to CP#3 and we jump out of the back of the deuce, When we are all out, he backs it up onto the bridge, preventing any vehicles from crossing, The rest of the vehicles are right behind us, everybody un-assing the trucks before they even stop. The dumptruck with the engineers pulls up next to the tree, so they can stand on it instead of having to use a ladder. The ROK’s with us, who are “supposed to” be limited as we are, with just .45’s and axe handles, begin throwing sandbags out of their deuces, Under the sandbags they have M-16’s, M-60’s, and a few M-79’s.
Several f them head over to Exum’s deuce and stand around watching the KPA guards across the bridge. I’m on the detachment that’s facing north, and I can see the 4 guards over there frantically running about and trying to get a hold of a superior on the phone. I look over at KP#3, a North Korean checkpoint just outside of the JSA and situated up on a hill, and I can see the guards up there run outside with a machinegun and set it up covering us. About two minutes later, a bunch of the KPA guard trucks and several buses pull up across the bridge from us. It seems like they sit there forever, several minutes at least. 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. Once in a while he lifts his head a bit and hits the rear tire of Exum’s deuce with the back of his fist, shaking the entire truck bed. Anybody who’s ever been on a deuce knows that’s not easy.
Somebody tells me LTC Vierra just gave an order on the radio and I look back. Our supporting helicopters rise up on line above the horizon, giving the North Koreans a perfect view of their amassed firepower. The line of choppers seems to stretch for over a mile. Upon seeing this, the North Koreans unload their vehicles and scatter along their side of the dike that is along the river. They set up in two-man groups, signifying that most of them are machinegun positions.
There I am, close to two million people stretched all along the DMZ and who knows how many tens of thousands within probably three miles of where we are at, nukes in the air (aboard B-52’s), who knows how much artillery from both sides concentrated on our location, crazy guys with mines on their chest yelling at the North Koreans to come on over, KPA less than 100 meters away with machineguns and AK-47’s trained on us, and me and my buddies are standing around with axe handles and .45’s. [Memories of the JSA]
Once again read the whole thing at the link, because more was done by the detail than cut the tree down according to Ferguson’s account. An example of how inflated Army awards are today, Specialist Ferguson for participating in the tree cutting detail was give a Certificate of Achievement:
Finally I want to give Bill Ferguson a big thank you for posting his memories during this timeframe.