A “Visit” to North Korea

Technically, I’ve been to North Korea.  I’ve never been to a city there, but, I’ve stepped foot across no man’s land into North Korea while stationed at Camp BonifasFile:CampBonifas1.jpg in the Republic of Korea as part of the United Nations Command Security Forces-Joint Security Area (UNCSF-JSA). While there, I was allowed to go over to the North Korean side of Pan Mun Jom a couple of times. I, also, snuck across a couple of times in the DMZ.

Not very far mind you. Technically, the North Korean Guards could shoot you if they spotted you crossing the DMZ. They would point their rifles at us all the time. There were a couple of areas on the North side of the DMZ that were over grown with shrubs, trees and high grass. We used to go up there and take our pics just to say; “I’ve been to North Korea.”

The North Koreans (in the Guard Towers, not those in PMJ) would point their rifles at us all the time even when we were on the RoK side of the DMZ. They (and we) were authorized to shoot at anyone in the two klik (or mile?) no man’s land within the DMZ. I think the DMZ is like 6 miles or kliks across. I remember the first time that I saw a rifle OBVIOUSLY pointed at me. I was at “The Bridge of No Return” re-enlisting. US Flag and everything. Standing there at the mid point with my right hand raised reciting the oath of re-enlistment and out of the corner of my eye I could see a NK sniper pointing his rifle square at my head. I swear the guy even winked at me.  It could have been the sun in my eye.  Who knows.  The memory is from ages ago.

Back then the US had soldiers patrolling inside the DMZ.  We had maps of minefields on hand for our side and known MFs for their side. I actually kept one of these maps and have it in my storage room back in Kentucky. It delineates all major and minor positions as well as minefields and known incursion sites and incident sites, known trails as well as the defensive perimeters and positions around PMJ, Bonifas, Liberty Bell, OP Oellette, Barrett QRF Facility and Freedom Village. We used to drive around up there as kind of a joy ride/patrol. They encouraged us to go out as a show of force. Mostly just for that….for show. I was actually able to take my (ex)wife up to Freedom Village and pretty close to the DMZ. She was pretty excited about it.

I was up there when Kim Il Sung passed. The NKs pulled everything up on line as if they were massing for an attack. They pulled out of the Armistice. We were preparing mentally to die when that went down. Making peace with our maker so to speak. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Clinton sent Carter in and Carter sold us down the river and Clinton was hailed as a hero and peacemaker. When in reality all it did was give NK the potential and tools to go Nuke on the World.

While there I learned about the “Axe Murder incident.”  One of the Korean guys who worked for me was the man that drove the truck over Bonifas and Barrett to stop the NK Guards from further mutiliating their bodies. He risked his life. It was huge. Meeting a real life hero. He was also a Vietnam War vet. Korea sent one Brigade over there for a time. I think they were pulled out because they were so brutal.  US Soldiers who were stationed at the DMZ during the incident and a few other times were authorized to wear the 2ID Patch as a Combat Patch. It was odd seeing old guys running around with that Combat Patch.

I’ve heard that when the US patrolled the DMZ, that occasionally US troops would meet up with NK troops and sometimes they’d actually interact in a positive manner. That said, if either sides troops are caught on the opposite side patrolling, deadly force was authorized. To my knowledge, the US was caught up in firefights as late as ’92 when we pulled the majority of our troops out of the DMZ.

In Pan Mun Jom, the NK soldiers and US and RoK troops interact on a limited basis. Mostly eye contact and smiles, though.

Every once in a while, a NK trooper will defect by running across to the RoK side. When that happens, it usually results in a firefight. The NK Officers will order their men to shoot the defector. The RoK and US soldiers will try to get him under their protections as soon as possible. To my knowledge, no RoK Soldier has ever defected to the North in Pan Mun Jom. No US soldier has ever defected via that route either. Though, I seem to recall a US Navy Seaman defecting to NK in the 80s or early 90s. I may be mis-remembering.

It was fascinating being up there. That said, when I crossed Freedom Bridge out of the DMZ for the final time…it was as if a great weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I hadn’t realized that it was so stressful while I was there, but, as we crossed Freedom Bridge and we stopped for one last look back and to throw our coins into the Han River, a feeling of intense relief that I had survived that year flooded through me. It was immense. Intense. Indescribable.

Below is a photo of the North Korea Flag which flies just beyond the DMZ.

The world's tallest flagpole in the North Korean village Kijong-dong

While I was there, Soldier of Fortune magazine had a 1,000,000 USD reward for a piece of the flag…and proof, of course.

Post Script:  I wrote this a long time ago.  The events herein occurred a long time ago.  Early 90s.  Memories from 20 years ago are now pretty hazy.  That said, I know that the NK guards in the towers on the DMZ would trail us with their rifles as we drove around the DMZ.  As for the re-enlistment scene that I describe, that may have been the over active imagination of a 23 year old.  But I know for a fact that the United States violated the Armistice agreement by keeping prohibited weapons close to and inside the DMZ.  Why would I expect that the North Koreans did anything different.   Also, I was there when Kim Il Sung died.  Kim Jong Il famously pulled out of the Armistice for a time and pulled massive amounts of Armor and Arty up onto the DMZ.  We thought we were dead.  Those of us at Camp Bonifas and Camp ‘Liberty Bell.  The KATUSA’s spent all day kissing and hugging each other good bye.

Here I am re-enlisting at the Bridge of No Return:

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And a few more photos of what I think is me in Freedom Village:

 

freedom village

 

The first picture below was taken from inside of one of the buildings at Panmunjom.  The second, I’m not sure.

 

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The Media: How Do They Get It So Wrong? ALL THE TIME!

Camp Phoenix, on the outskirts of Kabul, is run by US forces, with some NATO member nations maintaining a presence there.

It is also a base for the Afghan army, which is being trained by international forces in the hope it can take over the responsibility for fighting the Taliban insurgency.

The camp occasionally comes under attack, mostly from rocket and mortar fire, though without casualties.

Camp Phoenix has never been mortared.  It’s never been rocketed.  Not while I was there.  Not while I was at Camp Eggers and not in the past 3 years.  I’d know.  I lived at Camp Phoenix for one year.  I lived on Camp Eggers for a year as well and visited Phoenix frequently.  I’ve been to Camp Phoenix several times over the past 3 years as well.  I have friends at Camp Phoenix right now.  One who has been there for 3 years.

Camp Phoenix has never been a training base for Afghans either.  Not the ANA or the ANP.  There are two Camps about ten miles down the road called Camp Blackhorse and the Kabul Military Training Complex (KMTC).  Afghans are trained there.  Afghans are trained at Darulaman and there are 2 or three ANP training bases within and around Kabul on which ANP are trained.

I see this happening all the time.  The Associated Press (AP) picks up a story written by some idiot who never leaves the safe confines of his hotel room or villa in Shahr-e Naw or Wazir Akhbar Khan.  These morons report as if they are on the scene.  They mix up place and location.  They hack together stories based on second hand information and pawn it off on the public as gospel truth.  The guy who wrote this story should be fired.  He printed a hand full of lies and sent it in as if he had actually visited the places about which he wrote.  A bunch of older hacks will probably award this poltroon a  Pulitzer and they’ll all sit around in a smoke filled chamber and congratulate each other on their bravery and literary brilliance.

I’ve seen this kind of irresponsible writing of lies and half truths all over the globe.  Korea when Kim Il Sung died.  When Qandahar was attacked.  In Kabul after various attacks.  In Herat after suicide bombings.  From whom do these morons obtain their “facts?”  Dr. Suess?  The Brothers Grimm?  Hanna- Barbera?  Does anyone back home in America fact check or edit their hotel room ramblings?

I read the newspaper and online journals and I often wonder if these folks are even in country.  What happened to reporting from the front?  These guys are reporting from the whorehouse or from the tea parlor.  They’re definitely NOT on the scene.  Not here in Afghanistan.  I can assure you of that.