“Operation Paul Bunyan.”

So, there was a tree.  A tree on the DMZ between North and South Korea.  A tree that had, in 1976, gotten two Americans killed with axes.  And the North Korean government wasn’t particularly interested in admitting that there’s something wrong about ritually killing American troops with axes – because they’re the North Korean government, which is insane.

Well, can’t have that.  The tree had to go.  But at the same time, you can’t have World War III, either.  So… well, I’m just going to quote the next passage from Wikipedia because it is one of the few times where Wikipedia beats out for sheer, lucid insanity:

Operation Paul Bunyan was carried out on August 21 at 7 AM, three days after the killings. A convoy of 23 American and South Korean vehicles (“Task Force Vierra”, named for Lieutenant Colonel Victor S. Vierra, commander of the United States Army Support Group) drove into the JSA without warning to the North Koreans, who had one observation post manned at that hour. In the vehicles were two eight-man teams of military engineers (from the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division) equipped with chain-saws to cut down the tree. These teams were accompanied by two 30-man security platoons from the Joint Security Force, who were armed with pistols and axe handles. The 2nd Platoon would secure the northern entrance to the JSA via the Bridge of No Return, while the 3rd Platoon would secure the southern edge of the area.

Concurrently, a team from B Company, commanded by Capt. Walter Seifried, had activated the detonation systems for the charges on Freedom Bridge and had the 165mm main gun of the M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle aimed mid-span to ensure that the bridge would fall should the order be given for its destruction. Also B Company, supporting E Company (Bridge), commanded by Capt. Williams, were building M4T6 rafts on the Imjin River should the situation require emergency evacuation by that route.

In addition, a 64-man ROK special forces company accompanied them, armed with clubs and trained in Tae Kwon Do, supposedly without firearms. However, once they parked their trucks near the Bridge of No Return, they started throwing out the sandbags that lined the truck bottoms, and handing out M-16 rifles and M-79 grenade launchers that had been concealed below.[3] Several of the special forces men also had Claymore mines strapped to their chests with the firing mechanism in their hands, and were shouting at the North Koreans to cross the bridge.[12][13]

Well, you know, it’s a shaped charge… no, wait, Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space.

Moe Lane

PS: No, it totally worked.  The North Koreans yielded to our and the South Koreans’ superior grasp of bugfu*k nuts crazy and backed down.  Which, given that the North Korean government is typically so insane that it usually takes three days to get them to notice what dimension that the rest of us are in, is pretty damned impressive.

PS: I forgot to mention the additional troops, the Marines brought in from Okinawa, the attack helicopters, and the aircraft carrier.


  • UtahMan says:

    Let’s not forget the B-52s orbiting overhead.

  • I lived in Seoul (Yongsan) when that happened. Well, when the real incident happened. As I remember it, it was one South Korean who was shot because he accidentally leaned over into North Korean territory. I’ll have to ask my dad what he remembers because I was just a kid and my memory may not be correct.

    I do remember that one of our neighbors packed up hers and her kid’s stuff, told her husband she’d see him after his tour, and left the country. I found out years later that, after that incident, my mom kept a suitcase packed with clothing appropriate for the current weather in the States. She did that because she complimented a woman on her outfit one day and the woman told her that it was what she was wearing when a helicopter landed in their yard in Vietnam. They only had time to grab their passports.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Ima: surely you’re not suggesting that Wikipedia could be… wrong, could you? 😉

      Seriously, the actual story would be interesting to hear. And I hope that it still has the South Korean claymore suicide squad* in it somewhere.

      *I almost typed ninja, but I know how Koreans/Japanese get along with each other.

  • Wikipedia: It’s my go-to source for the real deal! 😉

    I’ll check with Dad in the morning and get back to you. You’ve made me curious about this.

  • Catseye says:

    Moe, I think you are woefully underestimating our ability to outcrazy the other side. Even the North Koreans, when we decide to do the CRAZY we do it BIG. That way more nations notice, it tends to upset their understanding of who and what we are.

  • Leonie Alemann says:

    Okay, I give up. What the bleeding hell was the point of chopping down the tree???

  • qixlqatl says:

    @Leonie I think at that point it had become an exhibition of “mine’s bigger than yours”.

  • UtahMan says:

    The point was an unobstructed view of the road. You have much better chance of killing a target you can see.

    The Norms attacked the first work party, so the second group sent to do the job had… backup.

  • UtahMan says:

    Norks, not Norms. (Nothing personal, Norm.)

  • Catseye says:

    Last point, I would bet dollars to donuts that the axe handles were Oak. The axe handle is the Most perfect wooden weapon known to man followed by the Lotus wood billy club. And yea, That tree had to go, one way or the other.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Catseye: my father swore by the Louisville Slugger. Seeing as he was old-school railroad union (Truman Democrat and was at Inchon, just in case anybody has a problem with that), I treat that as a somewhat expert opinion. 🙂

  • RPL says:

    If you want the full literary treatment, Rick Atkinson devoted a number of pages to it in his book “The Long Grey Line.” One of my co-workers is a graduate of USMA, class of 1964, and was teaching at the Academy went it happened. CPT Bonifas had been selected for promotion to Major, and the officers and families spent quite a bit of time consoling Marcia Bonifas and her children.

  • I checked in with my parents. They both recall that it was an extremely stressful time and that for the first couple of days, there was very limited information – along with the expected tension about what was going to happen next. Dad thinks that a Major and several NCOs had been dispatched to cut down the tree but was fuzzy on the details after that.

    Sorry! I thought I’d be able to provide some real information but I’m not. Apparently, I remember more about it that they do (and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my memories).

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