After the Korean War was halted with the Armistice Agreement, the Korean Peninsula was divided in half to become the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Throughout the years North Korea has consistently pushed the boundaries of the agreement and conducted numerous acts of provocation against U.S. and South Korean forces. One of these acts, which resulted in the death of two U.S. Soldiers, occurred on August 18th, 1976. The United States and South Korea reacted sternly by conducting Operation Paul Bunyan, since dubbed “the most expensive tree trimming operation in military history.”
On June 25, 1950 North Korea crossed the 38th parallel, invading South Korea. The next few years were filled with war on the peninsula. The North had advanced as far as the southern coast. The United States came to the aid of South Korea and helped push the North Koreans back north, almost to the border of China. China then fought with the North Koreans and helped regain half of the peninsula. This put the north and south at a stalemate. Many peace talks were conducted with little or no resolution. On July 27, 1953, the armistice was agreed upon which shaped the Korean peninsula as we know it today. A military demarcation line (MDL) was established. Both sides withdrew their forces at least 2 kilometers from the MDL. This created the demilitarized zone (DMZ) from coast to coast that would act as a buffer to prevent the north and south from resuming hostilities.1 The southern and northern boundary of the DMZ is one of the largest and longest defensive positions on earth.
The armistice was signed at Panmunjom which was near the MDL. This area later became the Joint Security Area (JSA). The JSA is a small circular portion of the DMZ that was excluded from the 2 kilometer buffer agreement. The JSA is split in half by the MDL and was the only area where North and South Korean soldiers were mixed together. The soldiers were only allowed a small number of sidearms in the JSA. The purpose of the JSA was to have a common forum to conduct peace talks and repatriate prisoners of war (POW).
As you can imagine, war is not forgotten over night, and this was demonstrated in the mixed force JSA. Over the next twenty years there would be a number of skirmishes resulting in the deaths of 600 Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers, 1000 South Korean Soldiers, and 49 American soldiers.2 By 1976 the KPA had seven guard posts (GP) in the JSA and the United Nations Command (UNC), which consisted of South Korean and U.S. soldiers, only maintained five GPs.3 One of the UNC’s GPs had a major force protection flaw. GP #3 was located between two KPA GPs and right next to the “bridge of no return,” which was an unrestricted route to North Korea. The nearest friendly guard post was GP #5 up a hill and near the center of the JSA. In the summer time GP #3 was not visible by GP #5 because of a forty foot Normandy...