In light of the supposed “end” to the time-frozen war between North and South Korea, it’s interesting to remember that while the average American had little to nothing to lose along the Demilitarized Zone, those in Korea -including the current president- were all too familiar with the front line.
While he now carries the responsibility of being the most important man in all of South Korea, Moon Jae-in was originally Sergeant Moon of Korea’s Army Special Warfare Command (ROK-SWC), also known as the “Black Berets.”
If you’ve ever seen those bizarre images of the Korean soldiers training shirtless in the snow, you’ve got at least the slightest bit of an idea in regards to what these guys are about. Hard as nails, modeled after the US Army Green Berets and responsible for everything from recon to hostage rescue, it’s somewhat hard to picture the seemingly mild-mannered and liberal-minded President Moon as a trained killing machine.
In 1976, Sergeant Moon was assigned to an overwatch detail surrounding the removal of a poplar tree in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area (JSA), one that North Korea believed was planted by their country’s demigod founder, Kim Il-Sung.
Three days prior to being assigned to the mission (which was known as Operation Paul Bunyan), two US Army officers previously assigned to cutting down the tree were killed by North Korean troops, led by Senior Lieutenant Pak “Bulldog” Chul.
With two of their own officers brutally axed to death over a tree, the US Army looked to their South Korean brethren and came up with a plan. Within 72-hours of the incident, Operation Paul Bunyan was launched- a show of force to remove the tree and send a message to North Korea.
Part of the joint-US/ROK Task Force Vierra, Sergeant Moon was one of 64 Black Berets who provided security as engineers from the US 2nd Infantry Division cut the tree down, covered by everything AH-1 Cobra gunships to B-52 bombers and an entire company of US infantrymen in helicopters. Upon arriving at the friendly side of the “Bridge of No Return” that separated the countries, the “unarmed” Black Berets pulled a myriad of weapons from hidden compartments in their vehicles and even strapped Claymore mines to their chests, threatening to show the North Koreans a good time if they decided to pull the same kind of stunt from three days earlier.
Astounded by the incredible show of force, the North Koreans didn’t try a repeat of the incident and bloodshed of an apocalyptic scale was avoided. By the end of the day, the tree had been cut down and the massive US/ROK presence went back to business as usual.
The 20 foot-tall tree stump, of course, was left there for a reason. To add insult to injury, ROK troops reportedly vandalized North Korean outposts before leaving.
Nearly 42 years later, one of the ROK Army’s fearsome Black Berets was photographed shaking hands with the grandson of the man whose tree he helped chop down.
Good job, Sergea… President Moon. Good job.
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