International/Multi-national · Political

Two men killed, war nearly started after tree trimmed

August 18, 1976
Korean Demilitarized Zone, Korean Peninsula
A group of Korean Service Corps personnel from South Korea and a United Nations Command team are attacked by North Korean soldiers after attempting to trim a poplar tree

The tree was obscuring the view between a UNC checkpoint and one of its observation posts. A team was dispatched to trim the tree to allow for better visibility, and was approached by approximately 15 North Korean soldiers. The North Korean group informed KSC and UNC group the tree had been planted and nurtured personally by Kim Il Sung and was to be left alone. Captain Arthur Bonifas, one of two US Army soldiers at the scene, ordered the trimming to continue and turned his back on Lt. Pak Chul, infuriating him. Pak ordered a runner to bring weapons to the location, and, armed with clubs and crowbars, once again ordered the team to cease the trimming. Bonifas again turned his back to Pak who then shouted in Korean “kill the bastards!”

The group of North Koreans attacked the UNC forces and the two US Army soldiers with their blunt instruments. As the South Korean service members dropped their axes, they were picked up by the North Koreans and used against the UNC and Army soldiers. Captain Bonifas was killed at the scene while the second US Army soldier, First Lieutenant Mark Barrett, later died of his injuries. All but one of the UNC guards were injured.

In response, a show of force nicknamed Operation Paul Bunyan was planned by the US and South Korea. On August 21, a team of 110 troops was gathered, a handful of whom were armed with chainsaws to attack the tree. Providing support were 27 helicopters and three B-52s. Instead of simply trimming it as was originally planned, the trimmers left a scarred trunk as a memorial to the attack. Later that day, Kim Il-Sung expressed his regret about the incident. The tree was later cut down completely and replaced with a bronze plaque memorial in 1987.


Photographs taken during the assault


The remnants of the poplar tree


The new monument

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