By Walter T. Ham IV, Eighth Army Public AffairsAugust 18, 2011
CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea, Aug. 18, 2011 -- The top U.S. Army commander in South Korea joined his most forward deployed battalion here, Aug. 18, at a ceremony to honor two fallen U.S. Army officers.
During the annual United Nations Command Security-Joint Security Area memorial ceremony, Eighth Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson honored the memory of Capt. Arthur Bonifas and 1st Lt. Mark Barrett.
"Their brutal and unprovoked murders in 1976 were yet another reminder that the Korean War never really ended," said Johnson. "We may have signed an armistice more than 58 years ago but the ceasefire that followed has been interrupted by numerous acts of North Korean aggression."
"Almost 450 South Korean and 100 U.S. servicemembers have been killed in such encounters with North Korean combatants, including the 48 ROK (Republic of Korea) servicemembers and two civilians killed during North Korea's malicious attacks on the ROK Ship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year," said Johnson.
North Korean soldiers murdered Bonifas and Barrett while their Soldiers were trimming a 100-foot poplar tree near the "Bridge of No Return" on Aug. 18, 1976. The tree was being trimmed to keep it from blocking the view between United Nations Command guard towers.
In response to the lethal provocation, the United Nations Command launched Operation Paul Bunyan three days later. Instead of trimming the tree, the United Nations Command decided to cut it down and the 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Engineer Battalion did exactly that.
The operation took 42 minutes and the U.S. Army engineers were covered by security forces, ROK Special Forces troops, artillery batteries, attack helicopters, B-52 bombers, fighter jets and an aircraft carrier operating off the coast. It was the most well armed landscaping mission in history.
The tree came down without incident.
The area where the incident occurred, the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, is the only place in 155-mile-long and 2 ½ mile-wide Korean Demilitarized Zone where military-level meetings are held between the United Nations Command and the North Korean People's Army.
UNC Security Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Edward Taylor said his Soldiers all learn that "individual actions have big consequences because of the strategic ground that we stand on and because of the talks we enable."
"We share an experience that is ours alone," said Taylor. "We stand side by side, Korean and American as one, as we have stood since the beginning: all for one, and one for all."
Johnson praised the service, professionalism and commitment of the UNC Security Battalion Soldiers who provide security inside the Joint Security Area today.
"For some stationed here in Korea, North Korea is something over the horizon -- something often heard about but rarely seen," said Johnson. "Not for this battalion. For UNC Security Battalion Soldiers, who provide 24/7 security at this unique stretch of military real estate, North Korea is often less than an arm's length away."
Johnson mentioned the special place that Bonifas and Barrett hold in this frontline battalion's history. The combined Republic of Korea and U.S. Army post where they are stationed beside the Korean Demilitarized Zone is called Camp Bonifas and the readiness center is named after Barrett.
"While we've named this camp and the JSA Readiness Center after these two brave officers, the best way we can pay tribute to Captain Bonifas and First Lieutenant Barrett is by carrying on their legacy, by defending the same freedom that they protected and gave their lives for," said Johnson. "That is the best way we can honor any of our Soldiers' sacrifices -- by finishing what they started."