North Korea Hatchet Murder 1976

The axe murder incident ( 판문점 도끼살인사건, 板門店도끼殺人事件,도끼蠻行事件) was the killing of two officers by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976, in the (JSA) located in the (DMZ). The U.S. officers had been part of a work party cutting down a tree in the JSA.

Three days later, the U.S. and launched Operation Paul Bunyan, an operation that combined a return to cut down the tree with a to intimidate North Korea into backing down. North Korea then accepted responsibility for the earlier killings.

The incident is also known as the incident and the poplar tree incident and "The Tree Trimming Incident" because the object of the conflict was a tree standing in the JSA.


CP#3, situated next to the Bridge of No Return, was the northernmost UNC checkpoint and only visible from OP#5 during the winter months. During the summer months, only the top of CP#3 was visible from one other UNC checkpoint (CP#2). Running across the middle of the bridge was the between North Korean and South Korean territories.

The (KPA, North Korea's army) had made numerous attempts to grab UNC personnel from CP#3 and drag them across the bridge into North Korean territory. The proximity to North Korean territory and the North Korean checkpoints on all access routes, along with the repeated attempts to kidnap the UNC personnel working there, led to CP#3 being referred to as “The Loneliest Outpost in the World”.

On one occasion before the incident, North Korean soldiers had held a group of U.S. troops at gunpoint, so;amp;action=edit&redlink=1 (JSF) Company Commander Arthur Bonifas was sent to force the North Koreans to stand down and bring the Americans back to safety, which he did successfully. Bonifas would later be one of the two killed in the axe murder.

[;amp;action=edit&section=2]The incident[;amp;action=edit&section=3]Initial trimmingOn August 18, 1976, a group of five (KSC) personnel escorted by a UNC security team consisting of Bonifas, his counterpart, Captain Kim, the platoon leader of the current platoon in the area ( Mark Barrett), and 11 enlisted personnel, both American and South Korean, went into the JSA to trim the tree as previously scheduled with the KPA delegation.

The two captains did not wear, as members of the Joint Security Area were limited to only five armed officers and 30 armed enlisted personnel at a time. However, there were in the back of the The KSC workers had the they brought to prune the tree branches. The tree had been scheduled to be trimmed seven days earlier, but rain had forced the work to be rescheduled.

After trimming began, 15 to 16 North Korean soldiers appeared, commanded by Senior Lt. Pak Chul, whom the UNC soldiers had previously nicknamed "Lt. Bulldog" due to a history of confrontations. Pak and his subordinates appeared to observe the trimming without concern for approximately 15 minutes, until he abruptly told the UNC to cease the activity stating the tree could not be trimmed "because personally planted it and nourished it and it's growing under his supervision." Capt. Bonifas ordered the detail to continue, and turned his back on Lt. Pak Chul.

[;amp;action=edit&section=4]AttackAfter being ignored by Capt. Bonifas, Pak sent a runner across the Bridge of No Return. Within minutes a North Korean guard truck crossed the bridge and approximately 20 more North Korean guards disembarked carrying and Pak again demanded that the tree trimming stop, and when Capt. Bonifas again turned his back on him, Pak removed his watch, carefully wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and then shouted "Kill the bastards!". Using axes dropped by the tree-trimmers, the KPA forces attacked the two U.S. soldiers, Capt. Bonifas and Lt. Barrett, and wounded all but one of the UNC guards.

While Capt. Bonifas was knocked to the ground by Pak and then bludgeoned to death by at least five North Koreans, Lt. Barrett jumped a low wall which led into a 4.5-metre (15 ft) deep tree-filled depression, just across the road from the tree. The depression was not visible from the road because of the dense grass and small trees. The entire fight lasted for only about 20–30 seconds before the UNC Force managed to disperse the North Korean guards and place Capt. Bonifas' body in their truck. However, there was no sign of Lt. Barrett and the two UNC guards at OP#5 could not see[].

They did, however, observe the North Korean guards grab (by the heels) approximately five members of their own force and drag them back across the bridge. They also observed the North Korean guards at KPA#8 (along the UNC emergency egress road) exhibiting strange behavior, in that one guard would take an axe and go down into the depression for a couple of minutes and then come back up and hand the axe to another guard who would repeat the process.

This went on for approximately 90 minutes until the UNC guards at OP#5 were informed that Lt. Barrett was missing, at which time they informed their superiors about the KPA activity in the depression. A search and rescue squad was quickly dispatched and found Lt. Barrett had been attacked with the axe by the North Koreans. Lt. Barrett was recovered and transferred to a hospital in Seoul via an aid station at Camp Greaves, but died during the journey.

Captain Shirron (Bonifas' replacement), Captain Shaddix, the Joint Duty Officer's driver, the Joint Duty Officer, and the OP#5 guard witnessed the attack from OP#5 and recorded the incident with both a black and white camera, which ran out of film, and Shaddix's 35 mm camera with a telephoto lens. The UNC Guard at CP#3 (Bridge of No Return) recorded the incident with a movie camera.