CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea -- The first true conflict between north and South Korea, since the armistice agreement in 1953, was triggered when 30 Korean People's Army guards attacked 12 Korean and U.S. Soldiers.
The United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area held the Barrett-Bonifas Memorial Ceremony on Camp Bonifas Aug. 16 to remember the loss of two Soldiers, Capt. Arthur Bonifas, of Newburgh, N.Y., the Joint Security Force company commander, and 1st Lt. Mark Barrett, of Columbia, S.C., the 1st platoon leader, who made the ultimate sacrifice on freedom's frontier in a brutal attack by north Korea guards on Aug. 18, 1976.
"It's important we to continue to honor the lives of these two Soldiers because we must always remember what those have done before us and sacrificed for us," said Spc. Brian Dors, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., an infantryman assigned to the United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area.
Mr. Kim Moon-hwan, the former Korean Augmentation to the United States Army company commander in the Joint Security Area during the time of the attack, worked with Bonifas at the JSA in 1976, was also by his side during his last moments on earth.
"I lost a good friend," said Kim. "We fought together against the KPA guards."
"I believe that it is the heart in the ROK-U.S. Alliance. That we will fight together, for each other, for a greater cause no matter what," added Lt. Col. Daniel Edwan, the modern-day commander of the United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area.
Back in 1976, as it is today, the JSA was a sensitive location. Even the smallest incident could escalate to something bigger, and then it could be the rekindling of the Korean War, Kim stated.
According to Kim, in 1976 the KPA guards were able to move freely throughout the Demilitarized Zone and no one thought anything of it.
"Before we speak about the incident on Aug. 18, 1976, we need to know the situation in 1976," said Kim. "In 1975, the Vietnam War was finished and a lot of people did not want to be involved in the war in foreign countries. So we tried to lessen the tensions with north Korea."
Kim stated that there were small altercations between the KPA guards and Republic of Korea and U.S. Soldiers who were at the JSA from 1975 up to Aug. 18, 1976, but no one had been killed.
That all changed on that horrid day.
"Because check point three was in a dangerous location and surrounded by north Korean outposts we used a nearby check point to look after Soldiers who were on duty by signaling to each other; but the tree hindered observation," said Kim.
In order to be able to see from the check point, Bonifas and a team of 11 ROK and U.S. Soldiers proceeded to cut down the branches.
That was the last mission Barrett and Bonifas took part in before they were attacked by KPA and killed.
While performing the tree trimming detail, the group was brutally attacked by 30 KPA guards resulting in two deaths and others receiving minor injuries.
"The attacked lasted no longer the four minutes," said Kim.
Three days later the United Nations Command lunched Operation Paul Bunyan, the largest tree trimming operation in Korean history, which placed all U.S. and South Korean forces in Korea on full combat alert.
"It was a statement to the north that this kind of unprovoked act of violence will not be tolerated," said Dors.
"The biggest lesson we should all have; it is that we are all here for each other, no matter what," added Edwan.
Today, at the Bridge of No Return, a bronze and stone monument stands where Bonifas, Barrett and 10 other ROK and U.S. Soldiers fought off those 30 KPA guards.
Kim returns to the JSA throughout the years because he believes Bonifas is still there even though he knows he has passed.
The ROK-U.S. Alliance has become significantly stronger following the 1976 attack. It is an enduring partnership, committed to the strong defense of the Korean Peninsula.