Remember DMZ Our Veterans
DMZ Vets National Organization
As the result of a suggestion from David Benbow of Statesville, North Carolina, we made a change on our museum brochure to include the vets of the DMZ in our promotional literature. David said that the Korean War Veterans National Museum and танфлекс has a great opportunity to educate our visitors about the little known sacrifices of DMZ vets in Korea.
"I think it is important to emphasize that other American soldiers served and some were killed in fire fights with North Korean soldiers after the end of the Korean War…. When I was in Korea in 1968 and 1969, there were over 50,000 American troops in Korea. As I understand it, there are now about 35,000 American troops still in Korea. Even if we take an average of 40,000 a year since the end of the Korean War, you can see that 40,000 x 35 years would be 1,400,000 troops. I would feel your museum and library would be more accurate and would also attract more visitors if you included facts about American soldiers in Korea who served after 1953….
You may throw up your hands and say, ‘We can’t be everything to everybody, and we are trying to do something good and here some guy is complaining about it.’ However, if you want to be historically correct, you must include the DMZ vets. I am in an organization of over 200 DMZ vets and we do not feel ‘forgotten,’ we feel ‘unknown.’ No one but their families ever knew about Michael Rymarczuk, my friend who was killed by North Koreans on night ambush patrol July 30, 1968, nor Johnny Benton from Concord, North Carolina, who was killed on November 2, 1966, when his patrol was ambushed by North Koreans and when Johnny and five other U.S. soldiers were shot, nor Joseph Coyer and Mike Reynolds, two members of the 2nd Division, who were killed when their Jeep was ambushed in my company area of the DMZ on September 27, 1968, nor the eight U.S. soldiers, who were killed when a North Korean guard post opened fire on a 10-man work party in the DMZ on March 15, 1969, killing Calvin Lindsey, a medic, and wounding two others (the other deaths resulted when the helicopter evacuating the wounded accidentally crashed shortly after takeoff and burned killing five crewmen, including two American medics and an American doctor and the two wounded American soldiers."
Those of our readers with Internet capabilities on their computers can find a reference to DMZ Purple Heart recipients at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rle/korea.htm. In closing his letter encouraging the Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library to include the DMZ vets in its exhibits and educational programs, David wrote these words "You can help Micki Rymarczuk Hampson of Philadelphia. You can let her know that her father, who never was able to hug her, nor push her in a swing, nor see her graduate from high school, nor walk down the aisle to give her away at her wedding - that Michael Rymarczuk is not forgotten and that his sacrifice is honored and remembered." We reassured David in reply correspondence that the DMZ vets are most certainly going to be remembered in the Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library.
Are you a DMZ veteran? Tell us who you are and something about your time in Korea.
Two American soldiers were killed and one American and two KATUSA soldiers injured in a live fire infantry weapons exercise. The men, all members of the 3rd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division, were believed to have been hit by flying shell fragments. Killed were Sgt. Jimmie Lee Spivey of Atlanta, GA and Sgt. Javier Arrufat of New York.
June 24, 1954
On that date, in the vicinity of Pugo-Ri, Korea, members of the 2nd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, were on a training exercise. Unknowingly, they entered into a mine field and detonated an antipersonnel mine, suffering several wounded. Personnel from the 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division went to assist the wounded and in the process another mine was exploded, resulting in further casualties. Killed were Lt. Keith W. O'Connor of Phoenix, AZ (George Co., 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division) and a 1st Lieutenant (name unknown) from the 3rd Bn. Aid Station, 65th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
May 26, 1999 - Letter from David Benbow, North Carolina
Dear DMZ Vets
I had a great trip to Korea. Olympus Tours of Los Angeles provides a 6 day revisit tour a couple of times each year in the spring and in the fall. We had a Korean-American guide who grew up in L.A. but really knew the Korean people and went the extra mile for us. Sixteen of the tourists were Korean War vets and Jim Caccavo and I were the only DMZ vets. Most of the vets took their wives and it was a family-oriented tour.
We visited a beautiful palace, Namsan Mountain and a very tall tower overlooking Seoul, Inchon Memorial Hall (which had displays of North Korean infiltrators' equipment and weapons from the 50s and 60s), an amethyst factory, a Korean folk village where we saw an exciting farmers' dance and a boring wedding, shopping in a crowded market (while there, approximately 200 people were demonstrating against being laid off and then here came over 1000 riot police), a medal ceremony dinner sponsored by the U.S. Navy League where each of us received a medal for our services in Korea. We had a large "American" buffet breakfast at our hotel every morning and our lunch and dinners were at different Korean restaurants. There is "no tipping" in Korea.
We went to a Full Gospel Church with 20,000 Korean young people where I was given a jar of North Korean soil and I was asked to pray for the starving North Koreans (my dirt was seized by the U.S. Customs in L.A.). We went to Panmunjom and briefly stepped into North Korea by walking to the other side of the famous conference table. We heard the North Korean loud speakers and saw several North Korean troops and guardposts. We saw the Bridge of No Return where POWs and the Pueblo crew were released and we saw some mighty big and tough ROK soldiers. The always ready American soldiers are doing an outstanding job there.
Col. Dan Bolger met Jim Caccavo and me at Freedom Bridge and gave us a VIP tour of Camp Greaves and the DMZ. We ate in the mess hall where we had very good food. Ltc. Pat Donahue gave us a briefing on the area's history on a patio overlooking the Imjin River. As he talked, I heard a Korean magpie and some other long ago familiar bird squalking. Off in the distance, I heard the chatter of a machine gun. Dan Bolger saw me jump and assured me that it was only training. We then met a South Korean Sgt. Major who took us to O.P. Dora (it may have been Dort), a South Korean observation post overlooking the DMZ. The observation posts I remember from the 60s were made of sand bags and were bunkers.
This observation post was on top of the highest hill overlooking the DMZ but it was built like a theater. Instead of a screen, it had a two-story glass wall running the length of the building overlooking miles and miles of the DMZ. It even had 10-12 steep rows of theater seats facing the glass wall. In front of the glass wall was a topographic map with hills and rivers and even a toy train--yes, the same train engine we saw in the DMZ is still there. Looking out the window, I saw it again. I saw GP Gladys (now a South Korean GP) in the distance. I saw the same hills where some buddies were shot. It's all still there -- still beautiful -- still dangerous. I could not believe I was actually looking at those hills.
As I walked out into a lobby--like area of the OP, I turned and saw 2 large 2 foot by 3 foot pictures hanging by the entrance doors. One of the pictures was of the train and the other picture was of the Mayor's House (that shot up concrete house in our area of the DMZ). For some reason, the ROK Sgt. Major would not let me take pictures of the DMZ.
The whole experience was surreal and weird as hell.
Dan Bolger presented me with a 2nd Brigade Strike Force hat, complete with my name embroidered on it, a wonderful framed map with the old camp names North and South of the Imjin River with an engraving commemorating my revisit to Korea. Dan Bolger could not have been more gracious to us. It was a pleasure to get to know him and I can assure you that we, as U.S. citizens, are in good hands with men like Dan Bolger and Pat Donahue leading our troops.
You will recall Dan Bolger wrote the book, "Scenes from an Unfinished War Low Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969". You may also recall in the book's preface he stated "this work is dedicated to Col. Walter B. Clark and all the other American and Korean veterans of the 2nd Korean conflict." This book is available for free at the Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-6900.
The Korean people were friendly and genuinely liked Americans. The school kids waved, said "Hello" and asked for autographs. There was no crime. We were safe walking busy or quiet streets all hours, day and night. I had read this in the tour book Al Olszewski had sent me prior to my trip and our tour guide had told us the same thing. There are no drugs and no guns--but I think it is more than that. It is a mind set which I wish we had in America.
Our hotel accommodations were very comfortable. Our flights were not very tiring (13 hours from L.A. to Seoul, however only 10 1/2 hours back because of the prevailing winds). The costs for all of this from Charlotte, NC was $1,395.00--hotel, flights, meals, bus, tours and guide. I highly recommend this tour to all of you.
I love Korea and the Korean people and I'm glad I got to know them better. The South Koreans have taken the opportunity we have helped give them and have been tremendously successsful. They want to unify with North Korea and even have a new eight lane bridge next to Freedom Bridge named "Unification Bridge". They have a modern industrialized country that has arisen from the ashes in only 50 years.
The statement of Van Jenerette in 1988 in Military Review, which was quoted in the VFW March 1992 issue says it best "There are no memorials inscribed with their names or monuments erected that extol their sacrifice. The battles along the Korean DMZ are for the most part forgotten except by the families of the dead. However, South Korea now stands as a free country and a phenomenal economic power, given its chance by the sacrifice of those Americans who died there and the thousands who served there." Dan Bolger, Pat Donahue and others carry on the tradition.
The morning I left for Korea, I received a V.A. Appeals report that a medic stationed at Camp Casey during 1968 and 1969 had received VA benefits for his exposure to Agent Orange. He has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As some of you know, Agent Orange was applied to the area along the barrier fence, the guard posts, observation posts, and fox holes along the barrier fence beginning approximately April of 1968. If any of you have any further information about the application of Agent Orange, please get in touch with me. I am working with Admiral Zumwalt and others to get the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to include all Korean vets who drew hostile fire pay. That should coincide with the time and
location of the usage of Agent Orange in Korea. If any of you have any of the following diseases or have a child with spina bifida (the child must have been conceived after you arrived in Korea), be sure and tell your doctor you may have been exposed to Agent Orange if you were in Korea and around the DMZ beginning in the spring of 1968. You can get additional information from National Veterans Legal Services Program, 2001 S Street NW, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20009. The diseases are as follows Cancers of the brochus, larynx, lung, prostate, trachea, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, other types of soft tissue sarcoma, peripheral neuropathy, chloracne or Porphyria Cutanea Tarda.
I'm sorry to report that Mrs. Eva Rymarczuk died in March. She was the mother of Michael, a member of my platoon, who was killed in the DMZ July 30, 1968. She had come to our first reunion in Statesville in 1994. Please give me a call or drop me a line if you want more information about my trip to Korea. Take care - David Benbow
- written by Richard K. Kolb
Lonely does not begin to describe the campaign waged by GIs in the small strip of land separating South from North Korea. Those infantrymen assigned to the hostile area of operations in the sixties were only a fraction of the total U.S. forces then stationed in South Korea. Worse yet, their own government refused to recognize the reality of duty on the "Z." Now, over 20 years later, perhaps that recognition will finally be forthcoming. After all, 1991 marked a watershed on the peninsula. On Oct. 4, the last GIs were removed from the DMZ, and on Dec. 12 a non-aggression pact between the North and South effectively ended the Korean War.
That America owes DMZ vets some acknowledgment should go without saying. But this has not been the case, and the men feel it. William Hollinger, an operations officer (S-3) with the 1st Bn., 31st Infantry, 7th Infantry Division in Korea in 1968-69, expressed this hurt in his novel, The Fence Walker "If we're killed on a patrol or a guard post, crushed in a jeep accident or shot by a nervous GI on the fence, no one will ever write about us in the Times or erect a monument or read a Gettysburg Address over our graves. There's too much going on elsewhere; what we're doing is trivial in comparison. We'll never be part of the national memory." That theme is a familiar one. Dennis Kulak, who served with the 2nd Infantry Division in 1969-70, put it even more simply. "Being on the DMZ during the Vietnam War was like being in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Grunts did what had to be done many times without recognition."
Call to Battle
Hostilities on the DMZ were timed to coincide with events in Vietnam. Kim Il Sung, North Korea's dictator, issued his declaration of war in a speech on Oct. 5, 1966 "U.S. imperialists should be dealt blows and their forces dispersed to the maximum in Asia..." Within weeks, North Koreans were probing the DMZ in preparation for a major strike. That the premier was coordinating his actions with Hanoi's Ho Chi Minh became abundantly clear with the later Tet Offensive and the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. For awhile, though, the Korean Communist regime was content to send infiltration teams south, wreaking as much havoc as possible.
Their battleground was well-suited for clandestine warfare. Korea is divided at the waist by the 38th parallel. The so-called demilitarized zone runs 151 miles long and is 2.5 miles wide on either side of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). The MDL is a six-foot wide barbed wire corridor designated by 1,292 yellow markers.
The "Z", as GIs called it, is not a pretty place. "It is a landscape of nightmare," wrote Holliger, "this wasteland of a demilitarized zone artillery craters, barbed wire, minefields, graveyards, the skeletons of villages and the remains of rice paddies. The earth has been shelled, mined, overgrown, booby-trapped, burned and abandoned to grow wild yet another time."
In 1967, a barrier defense system was erected on the southern boundary of the DMZ's U.S. sector. It consisted of a line of obstacles--concertina wire, tanglefoot and anti-personnel mines; a 10-foot-high chain link fence with triple concertina wire on top and six-foot steel pickets driven into the ground; and a line of towers and foxholes inter-connected by landline and radio. Of the fence, Hollinger wrote "My God, I thought, how can such a thing be beautiful? Its rusted chain links caught the light from the morning sky and the light turned it red, and it became a soaring red curtain rising and falling, following the contour of the hills..."
Ultimately, the 18.5-mile U.S. sector north of the Imjin River and south of the DMZ (an area comparable in size to the District of Columbia) was recognized as a hostile fire zone. Belatedly, in 1968, the Pentagon acceded to reality. A Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Pacific Forces memo stated "The men serving along the DMZ are no longer involved in Cold War operations. "They are in every sense of the word, involved in combat where vehicles are blown up by mines, patrols are ambushed, and psychological operations are conducted on a continuing basis against Korean Augmentation troops with the U.S. Army (KATUSAs)."
Added to the sheer ugliness of the DMZ is rugged terrain and a severe climate. "The land is incredibly harsh and unforgiving," wrote vet William Roskey in Muffled Shots A Year on the DMZ. "In the winter, the winds and ice and snow come lashing down through the mountains from Siberia and Manchuria, freezing the very marrow in one's bones. In the summer, the searing heat is sometimes almost indistinguishable from that of a Pittsburgh blast furnace. It is a land where a man can get frostbite and malaria all within the space of a few moments."
Manning the Ramparts
Dating from Nov. 17, 1954, when the Mutual Defense Treaty formalized the U.S. Republic of Korea (ROK) relationship, GIs had been positioned along the border as a deterrent to renewed North Korean aggression. The last of six U.S. divisions departed Korea by March 1955, leaving only the 24th Infantry Division along the Z. Rotation brought the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division back to Korea on Oct. 15, 1957, replacing the 24th Division on line. In 1961, the 1st Cav was the only combat-ready division in the Army. Its 13,000 men were dispersed among 112 camps. Squadrons (about 610 men in each) of the 4th, 9th and 12th Cavalry took turns patrolling the frontier.
During their 13-month tours, cavalrymen spent 193 days in the field. Two weeks of day patrol was followed by two weeks of night patrol. At this time, units were composed mostly of enlistees. On several occasions in 1962-63, troopers were hit by marauding North Koreans. On Nov. 23, 1962, the 9th Cavalry's A Troop at Outpost Susan was attacked with grenades, killing one American and wounding another. Less than a year later, July 29, 1963, a jeep from the 9th was ambushed two GIs died. During pursuit of the raiders, one U.S. soldier was killed in action (KIA).
Unit colors again changed hands July 1, 1965 when the 2nd Infantry Division returned to Korea to relieve the 1st Cav. Headquartered in Munsan, the famed "Indianhead" Division fielded the 9th, 23rd and 38th Infantry Regiments. Under the 2nd's operational control was the 2nd Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division, which had been in-country since 1951 and held in reserve since the armistice. A rotation system was inaugurated in October 1967 whereby infantry battalions of the 2nd and 7th divisions alternated duty on the DMZ. "Bayonet" infantry regiments included the 17th, 31st and 32nd.
Two brigade headquarters and five tactical battalions (four from the 2nd ID)--about 4,000 men--faced the North Koreans north of the Imjin River. In addition, "In Front of Them All" in the Joint Security Area (JSA) surrounding Panmunjom, was the 8th Army's Joint Security Force Company. Attached to each of the U.S. combat units were Korean auxiliaries known as KATUSAs. Issued GI clothing and equipment, these enlisted men (who served three years) provided a direct link to the Korean people. On July 21, 1968, a KATUSA shielded a GI from grenade fragments, earning the Bronze Star.
Besides all the combat support units in the rear, Special Forces A-teams from Okinawa backed the grunts. Green Berets were inserted into the rugged mountains of South Korea in the summer of 1967 to track down infiltrators who made it past the first line of defense. Infantrymen were also instructed.
Confronting GIs on line was a highly trained, specialized unit of North Korean infiltrators. The 2,400-man 124th Army Unit of the 283rd NK Army Group trained for guerilla operations in the South. They were lethal adversaries, and cut from a different mold than the average North Korean regular. Stealthily slipping across the border, they carried radio gear, cameras with powerful telephoto lenses and Soviet or Chinese arms. The infiltrator's favorite weapon was the old Russian PPS4 submachine gun, and he was well-versed in its use. He could run for miles with a full load of equipment, expertly conceal himself and negotiate minefields with long steel rods.
A fanatically dedicated communist, the NK would commit suicide with a grenade rather than face capture. "The only thing you find in the morning," said one sergeant, "is a body with its head and a hand missing." NKs operated in a world of darkness infiltrating, ambushing, committing sabotage and assassination. Their characteristics and tactics were similar to those of cousins in Vietnam. "Joe Chink is not much different than Charlie," said Special Forces Maj. Roger Donlon, Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam and commander of the Advanced Combat Training Center in Korea in 1967. "He fights the same way, with ambush, surprise and cunning." Ambushes were selective, though. "Joe Chink never strikes unless he's got the drop on you," said one seasoned U.S. officer. "You just can't make mistakes out there or you're as dead as you'll ever be in Vietnam."
Psychological warfare was another NK specialty. It was especially directed at infantrymen manning guard posts at night. "Communist broadcast speakers transmitted messages of defection and discontent, constantly playing mind games with GIs along the DMZ," remembers Dennis Kulak. "Attempting to turn GIs on KATUSAs, a typical broadcast would be 'Hey GI, look at the man next to you, are his eyes round or slanted? Will he cut your throat while you sleep?'"
Life on the Line
To counter NK infiltration, U.S. troops occupied guard posts, patrolled the DMZ and Fence and set "stakeouts." Rules of engagement (ROE) varied according to positioning. Automatic weapons were banned in the DMZ by the armistice agreement, but allowed along the Fence. Also, a clause in the agreement prohibited the use of helicopters in the DMZ. "If someone gets seriously hit, it would take us four or five hours to get him out and by that time he would be dead," said one officer. "And don't think the kids don't know it."
A string of United Nations Command (UNC) guard posts (GP), strung along the entire 151-mile front, served as the initial line of protection. Placed on the crest of 600-foot hills, they evoked images of stockades on the Western frontier during the Indian wars. GPs were circular installations with fighting bunkers extending outward from a circular trench. Bunkers consisted of sandbags and timber. An observation post was in the center. Perimeters were surrounded by two or three strands of concertina wire with Claymore mines staked to the ground with wire.
Each U.S. GP was operated by 10 to 30 men, and manned on a 24-hour basis. Normal tours lasted from seven to 10 days. Living conditions were Spartan to say the least. Sanitation and disease-bearing rats were a never-ending problem. Personal deprivation, combined with the constant tension, produced stress, fatigue, fear and loneliness. Major action occurred at night. Armed only with rifles, M-79 grenade launchers and hand grenades, the men depended heavily on searchlights, flares and starlight scopes. Strange noises--a "groan" in DMZ parlance--often prompted fire. "It's a spooky feeling," said one GI. "You always think the groan is Joe Chink--and sometimes it is."
Most significant enemy contact, however, occurred during patrols. Designed to deter infiltration and detect signs of enemy activity, they ran 24 hours a day. Quick fire techniques were stressed to deal with surprise encounters. "Hunter-killer" teams, with one man armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, prowled the DMZ. Others staked out known or suspected infiltration routes to intercept enemy agents.
Patrolling the southern boundary, where the decision to fire was left to the individual, was also an eerie experience. "Things are sensed or heard before they are seen along the fence," wrote Hollinger. "You can see nothing, only the mist, and the voices have no source, they are the cries of ghost soldiers raining down from an unseen sky." In the event the barrier system was breached, mobile reserves were maintained in a high state of readiness. Each battalion had gun jeeps and armored personnel carriers ready to roll. In the 7th Division's area of operations around Tongduchon and Tok-ko-ri, foot patrols and airmobile searches were employed in counter-guerilla sweeps. Patrols lasted from a few hours to several days. Moreover, isolated radio relay sites were reinforced by ad hoc security detachments made up of scouts, cooks, supply clerks and medics.
Kim's "Anti-Imperialist War"
Combined, these efforts thwarted large-scale infiltration. Skirmishes with NKs in the post-war '50s were rare. Occasionally in the early '60s a firefight erupted, and by 1965 with U.S. engagement in Vietnam, the tempo of activity picked up. Lee Tucker, who arrived in July 1965 to serve with the 2nd Division, remembers "several firefights in which GIs were wounded." But the opening salvo of the communists' border war began with an ambush south of the DMZ of an eight-man patrol from the 2nd Division on Nov. 2, 1966. With machine guns and by hurling grenades, the NKs killed six GIs and one KATUSA. Each of the bodies were found riddled with bullets, mutilated and bayoneted.
Pfc. David L. Bibee, a 17-year-old, was the sole survivor. Wounded by shrapnel in the leg and shoulder, he survived by playing dead. "The only reason I'm alive now is because I didn't move when a North Korean yanked my watch off," he told reporters. "And he almost took my hand off getting the watch." In an effort to save his fellow patrol members, Pvt. Ernest D. Raynolds had launched a one-man counter-attack, blazing away at the NKs until they cut him down. Recommended posthumously for the Medal of Honor, the Kansas City, MO native had been in Korea only 17 days before being killed.
Spring 1967 witnessed a dramatic increase in losses due to ambushes, sabotage and mines. From May to year-end, 300 hostile actions in the U.S. sector claimed 15 American lives and 51 wounded. In the first day-long firefight, lasting 18 hours, NKs assaulted a guard post with .30 and .50 caliber weapons.
When the Tet Offensive erupted in Vietnam, Kim took his cue and escalated the fighting in Korea. Thousands of Vietnam-destined troops were diverted to Koera in the first months of 1968. The 2nd Division was reinforced, and tours extended for some of those already stationed there. Throughout the year, firefights became part of the routine for DMZ grunts. Some 700 hostile actions were recorded. In one action, on April 21, a patrol from Co. B, 2nd Bn., 31st Infantry, engaged a force of up to 75 NKs south of the DMZ. It was perhaps the largest U.S. fight of the border war.
In 1969, action tapered off substantially. Nonetheless, men continued dying. On March 15, a 10-man work party from the 2nd Division was replacing markers on the MDL when it was hit. A patrol sent to assist lost one KIA and 2 WIA. Tragically, seven more lives were lost when the helicopter evacuating the wounded crashed.
The last GIs killed in the brush fire war died Oct. 18. Four men of the 7th ID were hit in a daylight ambush. Their truck was clearly flying a white truce flag. Each man was shot through the head.
As in Vietnam, U.S. forces on the DMZ gradually began to disengage from the front lines. "Koreanization" was complete by April 1, 1971 when South Korean soldiers replaced the last 4,000 GIs guarding the DMZ. A symbolic U.S. contingent was left to guard the access road to Panmunjom. The 7th Division was officially deactivated, after 24 years in Korea, at Ft. Lewis, Washington on that same day. "Indianhead" troops moved to reserve positions north of Seoul. For the first time since the end of the Korean War, the ROK army manned virtually the entire DMZ.
Defending the "Z" cost America 44 of its sons as well as 111 wounded from 1966 through 1969. If the seven GIs killed previously, the sailor from the Pueblo, 31 men of the Navy plane shot down in April 1969 and the seven Americans killed in the '70s are included, the total comes to 90 dead. That's nearly three times the number of Americans killed by the enemy in Grenada and Panama combined. In addition, the ROK army lost 326 killed and 600 wounded through 1971. Some 715 North Koreans died in action. Such casualties certainly contradict the notion of the DMZ as a "non-combat zone."
Fight for Recognition
Yet at home, a puiblic numbed by and preoccupied with Vietnam knew or cared little about what was going on in remote Korea. Author William Roskey, a veteran of the DMZ, regretfully wrote "The old romantic notion of the 'home front' with stars in the windows, a 'stage door canteen,' war bond rallies, and support and approval and even sacrifice by those at home died" during the '60s.
Not surprisingly, it was a battle even within the Pentagon to extend due credit to DMZ troops. Hostile fire pay--$65 more a month--did not become effective until April 1, 1968. Receiving it required at least six days a month in the hostile fire zone north of the Imjin River. (Formerly, only the month in which a GI was actually wounded was counted.) Standards for the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) were stringent assignment to an infantry company or smaller unit, minimum of 60 days in the hostile fire zone and authorized hostile fire pay, minimum of five firefights and personal recommendation by commanding officer. As one vet was told, "You'll get your CIB along with your Purple Heart."
While these requirements may be justified, the time delineation period is difficult to fathom. Only those who served after Jan. 4, 1969 are eligible. That means those who actually met all the other conditions in 1967 and 1968 are not qualified for the CIB. (The 7th ID created its own unofficial infantry badge featuring a bayonet and division patch in the middle of a wreath.)
On the other hand, every U.S. miltary person who served anywhere in Korea (the entire peninsula, off shore and airspace) between Oct. 1, 1966 and June 30, 1974 received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM). Americans who faced the same hazards between mid-1954 and Sept. 30, 1966 and since mid-1974 have not been recognized with a campaign medal or ribbon. As Capt. Wilfred A. Jackson of the 1st Cav's Troop C, way back in 1963, said, "Units serving on the line (the DMZ) should have and deserve the recognition of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal."
Veterans of the various Korea eras have some valid questions about recognition from their government and countrymen. DMZ vets, like their Vietnam counterparts, "returned to become strangers in our own land," felt Roskey, who served in the Z in 1966-67. Many feel just plain left out. Despite all this, GIs who did a stint on the peninsula since the armistice should be proud, especially the grunts who fought the brush fires on the 38th paralle.
Maj. Vandon E. Jenerette, a 2nd and 7th Infantry Division veteran, said it best "There are no memorials inscribed with their names or monuments erected that extol their sacrifice. The battles along the Korean DMZ (1966-69) are for the most part forgotten except by the families of the dead. "However, South Korea now stands as a free country and a phenomenal economic power, given its chance by the sacrifice of those Americans who died there and the thousands who served there."
- written by Richard K. Kolb
"It is a landscape of nightmare, this wasteland of a demilitarized zone artillery craters, barbed wire, minefields, graveyards, the skeletons of villages and the remains of rice paddies. The earth has been shelled, mined, overgrown, booby-trapped, burned and abandoned to grow wild yet another time," wrote William Holinger of Korea's DMZ in The Fencewalker.
Until the recent debate over withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, few Americans paid much attention to GIs serving near this reminder of a war never fully settled. Nor has tangible recognition been granted for the inherent risks taken along one of the most dangerous fronts between Communism and the free world. So it is not surprising that the American people do not fully comprehend the demanding service rendered in this harsh land.
"I am surprised and upset with the lack of media coverage on soldiers serving here," wrote Pfc. Mark Whitt of B Co., 2nd Battalion/503rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division. "Heck, I live three miles from a Communist boarder in a tent with 13 other people and regularly patrol the DMZ separating North and South Korea."
A world away back in the U.S., this same dismay is shared by veterans who served in Korea between July 28, 1954 and Sept. 30, 1966. "For years we have been fighting for Congress or the Defense Department to allow the United Nations Ribbon or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) for military personnel who did a stint in Korea during the time that is not officially recognized," says Francis J. Burskey. A member of the Korean Service Veterans in Pennsylvania, Burskey served along the DMZ in 1963-64 when several GIs were killed in action by North Koreans.
Both Burskey and Whitt are understandably disappointed. By all accounts, Korea's DMZ is about as close to a combat zone as there is in the world today for American ground units. But because the shooting has stopped for now, veterans of the "Z," as it is known in GI jargon, do not qualify for a campaign medal. The exception to that rule applies to the period between October 1966 and June 1974 when the AFEM was authorized. Yet even during this time, full-fledged firefights regularly occurred only from November 1966 through 1969.
The AFEM was first granted retroactively for service in the 1958 Lebanon intervention. Since then, it's been authorized for 17 other military actions involving varying degrees of danger, most recently for Persian Gulf naval service. Apparently, there is substantial support for admitting all Korea DMZ vets to the VFW. Says VFW Commander-in-Chief Wally Hogan, a Korean War veteran, "A half dozen resolutions were introduced in 1989 and their message is clear until a peace treaty is signed, anyone assigned to the DMZ for 30 or more consecutive days should be awarded the AFEM." VFW Resoltuion No. 209, a combination of the six Korea-related resolutions introduced this year, urges Congress or the Defense Department to authorize the AFEM for all qualified personnel.
In the Jaws of a Dragon
A flashpoint of the Cold War, Korea is the sole place in East Asia where the critical interests of all the major Pacific powers converge. A Communist-controlled peninsula would be a "dagger aimed at the heart of Japan." GIs in Korea are on a higher state of alert than any other U.S. troops on the globe, serving as a virtual tripwire between two of the world's largest opposing armies. Within 50 miles of the 38th parallel, North Korea has 480,000 troops facing 360,000 South Koreans.
Some 60% of the North's total combat strength, including the elite Special Operations Forces--the largest such element in the world--are forward-deployed. It serves as the vanguard for cross-border attack as well as behind-the-lines warfare and sabotage missions.
The DMZ has been described as "a barren collar stretched around the neck of a dragon to keep its two heads from biting each other." Soldiers charged with keeping that dragon at bay are in an unenviable position. Said Col. John Patrick, commander of the 400-man United Nations Security Force at Camp Bonifas in 1988, "It is a continuing cold war of intimidation with the North Koreans." Added Lt. Jeff Helmick, "This is one of two places in the world where you have direct contact with the enemy (Berlin being the other)." (Incidentally, a stint in Berlin, by a quirk of political history, still qualifies military personnel for an Army of Occupation Medal and thus membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.)
Clashes with the enemy in Korea are always possible. In late 1984, for example, a defecting Soviet student provoked a lethal exchange of gunfire. North Koreans shot at the student as he fled across the border, prompting return fire from South Korean soldiers. In the brief firefight, two North Koreans and one South Korean were killed. And Pvt. Michael A. Burgoyne of Portland, Mich., was shot in the jaw. He was later awarded the Purple Heart.
Deterring the Enemy
North Korea remains committed to destabilizing the economically powerful South. Infiltration, sabotage, espionage, terrorism, sea raids, airspace violations and other provocative acts characterize the Communist regime's campaign against Seoul. Enough of a threat obviously exists along the DMZ to warrant active deterrence. This is where the 8th Army comes into play. It makes up over 70% of the 44,135 U.S. troops stationed in Korea. Most remaining personnel belong to the U.S. Air Force.
Based "In Front of Them All" is the 8th Army's Joint Security Force Company (JSFC) which guards the buildings at Panmunjom and serves as a Quick Reaction Force. JSFC is on call 24 hours a day. This combined U.S.-Korean unit has sustained 10 killed in action (KIA) and 40 wounded in action (WIA) since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Right behind JSFC is the 2nd Infantry Division, the most forward-deployed division in the U.S. Army. The Indianhead Division, as it is nicknamed, was reorganized in 1987 and today has four combat maneuver brigades--infantry, armor, mechanized infantry and aviation. The brigades consist of eight battalions--three light and two mechanized infantry, two tank and one air cavalry squadron. Four artillery battalions provide fire support. All told, approximately half of the division's 15,000 members are committed to a combat role. The division is brought to authorized strength by attachment of over 2,200 KATUSAs (Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army).
Division elements are positioned astride the principal invasion corridors leading to Seoul, and are responsible for an 18.5 mile-sector of the 151-mile DMZ. Two American guard posts, Collier and Ouelette, lie within the DMZ and are manned by infantry platoons. Permanently based at Camp Greaves and Liberty Bell north of the Imjin River is the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry of the 3rd Brigade. From late winter to late fall, other infantry battalions are rotated to the operational area. Missions include manning the two DMZ posts, patroling the sector contiguous to the truce village of Panmunjom and providing joint road and bridge security.
During his one-year tour in Korea, every grunt will spend time in the "Z" where he is likely to see, hear or otherwise encounter North Koreans. Patrols are geared to interdict intruders. "We go in live patrols with live ammunition," said Capt. Jorge Rangel. "This is the real enemy. We have to be ready." DMZ patrolmen "collect intelligence, provide early warning, and kill the enemy if he comes through. Reconnaisance and ambush patrols are conducted every day and every night. It's deadly serious business," according to one officer.
Yet there are restrictions. Americna troops must first attempt to detain infiltrators. Only if fired upon may they shoot the enemy. Armed infiltrators, in fact, have been encountered in the American sector in recent years. In the "Z.," locking and loading an M-16 is clearly more than a training exercise. Closeness to North Korean forces makes such tasks on the DMZ meaningful. Tough training, tedium and tension all seem worthwhile when the threat is clearly visible. This sense of purpose explains the high morale and esprit de corps in the Indianhead Division. Little wonder that military sociologist Charles Moskos called the 2nd "the last best place to soldier."
Americans have been soldiering in Korea since the end of WWII. In addition to the war there in 1950-53, infantrymen along the DMZ engaged in what one author called a "Twilight War." Even earlier in mid-1963, three Americans were killed in several days of skirmishing. Two were ambushed in a jeep; the other was KIA while rounding up the North Korean infiltrators responsible for the attack. All the North Koreans were tracked down and killed.
Three years later, while President Lyndon Johnson was visiting Korea in 1966, a new round of sustained fighting erupted. "Because of duty, six of them died...from Communist gunfire on the almost forgotten front of the 28th parallel in Korea," Johnson said of the first Americans killed in the renewed combat. Lethal skirmishes continued throughout 1967, and later, as the Tet Offensive raged in Vietnam, North Korea unleashed its "hunter-killer" teams on the DMZ. U.S. reinforcements, including a Special Forces A Detachmentment, were sent there to counter the Communists.
Only then did the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend--and the Defense Department approve--the area north of the Imjin River and just south of the DMZ as a hostile fire zone--effective April 1, 1968. The coveted Combat Infantryman's Badge, Purple Heart and decorations for valor in battle were subsequently authorized.
Over 40 GIs were killed and 131 wounded in lonely ambushes and firefights along the 38th parallel in the late 1960s. American lives were also lost at sea and in the air. One sailor died in the 1968 Pueblo affair when the ship's entire crew was captured and held for over a year. In April 1969, 31 airmen were killed when the North Koreans shot down a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan. Another six GIs died in three separate incidents between 1974 and 1977.
Though open hostilities had ceased by the end of 1969, combat pay and combat awards were not withdrawn until 1973. The Defense Department awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Korea until June 30, 1974.
Quest for Recognition
"VFW has an obvious stake in whether present-day Korea vets are awarded the AFEM," says Commander-in-Chief Hogan. "In the past 15 years alone, a substantial potential pool of DMZ veterans would have been eligible for membership if the campaign medal had been authorized. "But more importantly, Americans who man remote outposts on the frontiers of freedom deserve something extra. A relatively small number of GIs on active duty are asked to perform this task and they rate some token of special recognition."
Korea's no-man's land is quiet for now. Still, duty in the DMZ is performed as it would be in a combat zone. Nowhere else on America' far-flung defense perimeter is a GI as likely to encounter hostile fire. In recognition of this reality, many veterans of the 1954-66 era and the post-1974 period feel award of the AFEM is justified. So does the VFW.
Former President Ronald Reagan--the first U.S. commander-in-chief to ever visit the DMZ--perhaps made the best case for the medal in 1984 when he said, "We know about the danger. You're facing a heavily armed, unpredictable enemy with no regard for human life."
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library
Copyright © 1998 Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library