By Lucas Bernard
Today, US presence in Korea is marked by staring down scrawny malnourished conscripts from across the DMZ by day and soju-fueled debauchery by night. Soldiers from both best and worst Korea strut across their sides of the border, serving mean looks and military pomp. What is largely a token presence in the region was once much more serious.
It all started with a tree. Along the military demarcation line, a poplar tree blocked the line of sight between a UN checkpoint and an observation post. A small joint force of US and South Korean troops was sent to trim the tree, led by Captain Arthur Bonifas and his South Korean counterpart. They were unarmed, save the axes they brought to prune the branches. They were soon met by North Korean troops, led by Lieutenant Pak Chul, who was infamous for his confrontational nature. After waiting just long enough for the pruning detail to work up a sweat, Lieutenant Pak demanded that the tree be left alone. His reason? Their Glorious Leader Kim-Il Sung had planted the tree himself. Captain Bonifas shrugged and his men resumed their work. A runner was sent behind North Korean lines and soon a truck bearing 20 Korean People’s Army soldiers rolled up. The soldiers jumped out armed with clubs and crowbars. Pak once again ordered Captain Bonifas’ men to cease trimming the tree. Once again Bonifas shrugged it off, as he was used to such grandstanding. Pak ordered his men to “Kill the bastards!” Pak knocked Bonifas to the ground, where he was beaten to death. His subordinate, Lieutenant Mark Barrett managed to escape despite a grievous ax injury, but later died en route to a hospital in Seoul. Of course, the North Korean recounting of the story went a bit differently. “Imperialist aggressors” sent in a band of “hoodlums” to chop down the tree without the consent of North Korea. In response to their calls to cease the work, the American and South Korean forces attacked, forcing the People’s Army to act in self-defense.
What was the American response? An overwhelming show of force. That fucking tree was coming down, World War III be damned. Three days later, Operation Paul Bunyan was in motion. A fleet of trucks blasted down to the Joint Security Area, carrying combat engineers armed with chainsaws. What was provided in support of this main element?
- 60 men from the Joint Security Force armed with pistols and ax handles
- Engineers standing by to blow up Freedom Bridge, with a 165mm gun pointed mid-span to assure it
- 64 men from the Republic of Korea’s 1st Special Forces Brigade, armed with taekwondo skills, M16’s, grenade launchers, and claymores strapped to their chests with detonators in hand wishing a Commie son of a bitch would
- Seven Cobra attack helicopters
- Various American and South Korean bombers with fighter escorts
- The USS Midway
- An infantry battalion, with 12,000 more men en route just in case
- One tank
- Nuclear Capable Strategic Bombers circling overhead
As the engineers began cutting down the tree, buses carrying about two companies of Korean People’s Army soldiers showed up with little more than rifles and light machine guns. They quickly set up positions so the Americans and South Koreans wouldn’t see them shitting their pants. The tree came down in 42 minutes, with the stump being left as a reminder. A memorial has since been erected at the site. In English, the plaque commemorates the loss of Bonifas and Barrett. Translated into North Korean it says, “Fuck around and find out!” To this day, America cuts down whatever trees it damn well pleases.