A Visit Remembered

| November 13, 2012 | 42 Comments

The Korean peninsula extends from the Asian mainland into the Pacific Ocean south and east, towards Japan.  It’s sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Morning Calm”.  However, that’s a misnomer; Korea’s history has been anything but calm.  Korea has the misfortune to be located between three powerful and aggressive neighbors:  Japan, China, and Russia.  Add periodic internal strife, and throughout history Korea has seen substantially more than its fair share of war.

It’s a rugged, harsh, mountainous land.  It’s bitterly cold in winter – think  Great Plains/Great Lakes cold – and at times is Dixie hot and humid in summer.  Other than its river valleys it has precious little flat land.  Only about 30 percent of Korea’s land is arable.

A notable exception is the region extending from the Osan/Seoul/Pyongtaek area generally northwest past Panmunjom towards Pyongyang.  This area includes the lower portion of the valleys of the Han and Imjin Rivers, as well as other reasonably (by Korean standards) open country.  Though nowhere near Great Plains flat, the region is less mountainous than most of the rest of the peninsula.  It’s one of the few such regions in either North or South Korea.

This region is called the Western Corridor.  It is so named because the area has been the primary route of armies traveling north-to-south and south-to-north in Korea throughout history.  The historical Korean capital, Seoul, sits square in the middle of the Western Corridor.

— — —

In the early/mid 1980s, there was still only one major road heading north from Seoul.  This road went north to a town called Uijeongbu.  Yes, that Uijeongbu – the town made famous in the book/movie/TV show MASH.

(Historical note:  there really was a US MASH unit based at Uijeongbu during much of the Korean War.  That unit was the 8055th MASH, to which the book’s author was assigned.  The book/movie/TV show is based, presumably loosely, on his experiences at that unit. In the 1980s the 8055th’s old compound was still used by the Republic of Korea [ROK]Army. I ran or bicycled by that compound on occasion while I was a youngster stationed in the Uijeongbu area.)

At Uijeongbu, the road split.  From Uijeongbu north toward Dongducheon and Camps Casey/Hovey/Castle/Nimble, the road was called MSR3 by US forces.  It continued northward from there, crossing the 38th Parallel and passing through the towns of Jeongok-eup and Yeoncheon.  The branch of the road from Uijeongbu west led past Third  ROK Army (TROKA) HQ.  It then joined another major route – called MSR1 by US forces – northwest towards Munsan-ri.  On its way to Munsan-ri this road passed by Camp Howze.

The road did not end at Munsan-ri.  It continued to the Imjin River, crossed to the north bank of the Imjin, and continued on to Panmunjom.

The bridge where the road crossed the Imjin was called Freedom Bridge.  It was so named because it was the bridge across which POWs released at Panmunjom at the end of the Korean War crossed the Imjin on their way south to freedom.

Freedom Bridge


Freedom Bridge is a steel truss bridge.  It was originally a railroad span but had been converted to road use.  Originally there had also been a second, parallel span; that parallel span was destroyed during the Korean War. (The remains of the pilings supporting the former parallel span can be seen in the above photo.)

The road crossing Freedom Bridge was a single lane; traffic reversed periodically.  Guard posts at either end controlled traffic across the bridge. The bridge still exists today but was replaced for north-south traffic in 1998 by a nearby modern structure, the Unification Bridge.

In 1983 Freedom Bridge was the only way to cross the Imjin without swimming or flying – or, during the coldest parts of the winter, perhaps skating or ice-walking.  Since the banks of the Imjin were mined and under observation, you really didn’t want to try swimming or skating/ice-walking.  Air transport to and from locations north of the Imjin was also rather scarce.  So if you went north of the Imjin and weren’t a VIP, you crossed Freedom Bridge.

North of Freedom Bridge a few kilometers lay the Korean DMZ. In 1983 this part of the DMZ was still patrolled by US troops from the 2nd Infantry Division.

Just after crossing the Imjin the road passed by Camp Greaves on its way to Camps Kitty Hawk and Liberty Bell (renamed Camps Bonifas and East Bonifas in 1986 and 1991, respectively) near Panmunjom.  A smaller road branched off and climbed a hill to a small, isolated US facility nearby.  From Camp Greaves and that smaller facility one could often hear the North Korean propaganda from loudspeakers at their propaganda village, Kijong-dong, north of the DMZ. Even today, it is believed that no one actually lives at Kijong-dong; lights reportedly go on and off in unison as if controlled by a single switch. But the propaganda broadcasts via loudspeaker have reportedly been discontinued.

Kijong-dong, AKA “Propaganda Village” – the large tower was once the tallest flagpole in the world and flew the world’s largest flag

This area was often referred to as Freedom’s Frontier.

The name was apropos.  The Korean DMZ at that time was reputedly the most heavily fortified border in the world – more heavily fortified, allegedly, than even the Inner German Border (IGB) between East and West Germany.  Though much rarer than during the 1960s, infiltration attempts and firefights still occurred on occasion.  And by 1983 three infiltration tunnels had been discovered running under the DMZ – tunnels large enough to pass thousands of troops per hour.  (For descriptions, see here, here, and here.)  A fourth tunnel would be discovered in 1990; as many as 17 such tunnels are thought to exist.

If you think I’m trying to tell you the area near the Korean DMZ was a damned tense place in 1983 – you are correct.  Freedom Bridge was rigged for demolition, as were many if not all bridges on the main roads north of Seoul.  Numerous tank traps and military roadblocks/checkpoints existed on those major roads and were simply accepted as a normal part of life.  And there was still a nighttime curfew for all persons – civilian and military – in areas close to the DMZ.

Yes, the APF was high.  And from just north of the DMZ, North Korean artillery could reach the northern outskirts of Seoul – so it was pretty damn tense in all areas north of Seoul, not just in those areas immediately adjacent to the DMZ.

— — —

It was to this place that President Reagan traveled on 13 November 1983.  He visited Camp Liberty Bell, just outside the DMZ, and addressed the soldiers there.  He attended a Sunday church service with the troops there.  And he visited the DMZ itself, viewing parts of it from Guard Post Collier.

President Reagan at Guard Post Collier, 13 November 1983

No other US President had been to the Korean DMZ before.  President Reagan was the first.

Reagan’s visit occurred during a particularly tense time during the Cold War.  This was 3 weeks to the day after the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut.  It was less than 3 weeks after Grenada.  It was just over a month after the Rangoon bombing, where North Korea had attempted to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan and a number of other senior South Korean government officials.  And KAL 007 had been shot down by the Soviets near Sakhalin Island less than 2 1/2 months previously.

(It was also just a few days after I’d come way too close for comfort to getting my own ass shot off by friendly fire.  In the great scheme of things, I guess that would have been minor – but it mattered to me at the time.  Still does, actually.  [smile])

President Reagan was easily within North Korean mortar range at Camp Liberty Bell.  He was doubtless under North Korean observation and was possibly within sniper range during his visit to GP Collier.

I won’t quote any of President Reagan’s speech that day; the text can be found here.  It was a damn fine speech; even 29 years later it’s very much worth reading.  And Reagan’s delivery was, as usual, virtually perfect.  He truly deserved his sobriquet of “The Great Communicator”.

But the delivery, and even the content, that day were secondary.  What truly mattered was who he was – and where he was that day.

— — —

I can’t say I heard Reagan’s speech in person or saw President Reagan that day.  My place of duty during his visit was that small remote facility I mentioned earlier, just north of Freedom Bridge.  I was supporting the President’s visit from that location.  I recall that we listened to the speech – probably via listening to AFKN radio.  But I had other things on my mind at the time, so I was only able to pay partial attention to the speech itself.

That day was  my seventeenth day in the Republic of Korea.

I would end up staying in Korea for more than two years – two very eventful and meaningful years.  But all things considered I don’t think I spent a more meaningful or memorable day in Korea than that day in November 1983.  And that includes the day a bit over a year later when a Russian tourist defected at Panmunjom, risking his life in a desperate dash for freedom and triggering a firefight for which four US soldiers were later awarded the Silver Star.

(It appears this later incident also brought a partial measure of revenge for the Panmonjum Ax Murders of  18 August 1976.  The North Korean officer who commanded the North Korean guards that day in 1976, Senior Lieutenant Pak Chul – AKA “LT Bulldog” – was also present during the November 1984 incident.  Pak reputedly ordered the murders of the 2 US soldiers killed in 1976:  CPT Arthur G. Bonifas and 1LT Mark T. Barrett.  Pak is believed to have been one of the 3 North Korean guards killed during the 1984 firefight.

In any case, Pak has not been seen since.  Good riddance; may he burn in hell.)

— — —

No, I wasn’t among those to see Reagan when he made history on 13 November 1983, or one of those who heard his speech in person.  But in a small way I was a part of it nonetheless.

And for the privilege of playing that small part I’ll be forever grateful.

 

 

(Author’s note: the photos in this article are publicly posted on the internet. I have pointed to those external sources to display them in this article.)

Category: Historical

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  1. JP says:

    Thanks for sharing, Hondo.

    Korea was my first duty station. I remember the old joke I used to hear there, that the best way to make your E-5 in Korea was to come there an E-6.

  2. Nik says:

    Is it just me, or does that guy with Reagan in that picture look like Jake Gyllenhaal?

  3. NIN says:

    Spent 30 months there (1986-1989) at Pyongtaek. Flew a lot over the Imjin, Freedom Bridge, Munsan, the MSR1 & MSR3 corridors (and circumnavigated the P-73 area more than a few [dozen] times), Uijeongbu, TDC, etc. And the endless “NFL” flights from west to east, and back again, 2km south of the southern fence, up and down those damn mountains trying to stay at less than 500 ft AGL the whole way, visually navigating (no GPS then), and desperately praying the guys in the front office had their shit together so we didn’t blow a turn or a waypoint and wind up meeting the NKPA face-to-face.

    It was a pretty incredible place for a 19 year old who’d barely ever been out of his home state. I’d go back in a minute.

  4. Eric says:

    That is interesting, I went to Panmunjom once for a tour in ’96 and once was enough.

    @1 even in the late 90s people were still saying that. I knew a guy there who was an E-5 three times in the 18 months he was stationed in Yongsan. (In Yongsan, you have three things to do, work, drink, and get in trouble during the first two.)

    @2 Its funny ’cause its true…

    I was there TDY multiple times from 95-99 and got to see a lot of the ROK. When I went to Panmunjom, it was one of those times the North was “striking back” at us by shutting down their side and so when we went on the tour, there was only one NK guard there and he stayed up on the porch of his building hanging out.

    I can say that even inside the building where you can walk over “into” NK, I got chills crossing to the other side of the table. But, like I said, glad I went once to see it and thanks for serving up there.

  5. Dave says:

    I always thought the ROK was a great place to soldier. I was there in 79-80, 81-82 & 84-86. The first tour was with 1/17 Inf at Camp Casey. In the year I was with 1/17 we did two rotations at Warrior Base. The first was right before Korean President Park, Chung Hee was asassinated, the second in the dead of winter. Tense? Yeah. Being north of the river there was no place to retreat.

  6. B Woodman says:

    Hondo,
    Thanks for the memories. I was stationed in ROK, once, ’85-’86, with a comm unit in Taegu. Not so tense, then & there. But you knew why you were there.

  7. Anonymous says:

    My tour in Korea came in ’92, apparently not long after the era of houseboys and 6 day work weeks.

    I was on Camp Casey, but traveled to the DMZ several times to go to Camp Greaves, and did the Pammunjom tour once. It was one of my better duty assignments, as I carried a long gun and went to the Sniper School at Camp Hovey…but I also got jettisoned by my practice wife…so all in all, a pretty good tour in hindsight.

  8. CI says:

    @$$#% computer.

    #7 was me.

  9. OWB says:

    Nice. Well done, Hondo.

  10. 77 11C20 says:

    I did a Team Spirit and was based at Camp Page in the winter of 1979. The closest I got to the DMZ was a massive field exercise north of Chuncheon. The whole countryside was our training area. It was at the time an eye opening experience of the attitudes of both the populace and the ROK troops.

  11. WebsterICT says:

    Was stationed at Camp Bonifas in 1994.

  12. martinjmpr says:

    Nice writeup. I did a Team Spirit there in 1990 from Fort Lewis, then got stationed there from 91-92, with 2id HQs at Casey (they were actually in the process of moving Division HQ to Camp Red Cloud – CRC – in Uijongbu when I left in May of 92.) I can’t say I enjoyed it and I tried like hell to get out of it (I had just completed jump school and wanted to stay in an airborne unit) but I have to admit it was a great experience. I ended up working for the surveillance officer for the 2id posts up along the DMZ and got to spend a couple of days driving him around to all the observation posts we had up there – RS1 and RS2, and we even had lunch at the JSA DFAC at Panmunjom.

    As for the nightlife in Tongducheon (TDC) and Toko-Ri (outside the back gate of Camp Hovey), the details of those “missions” will remain classified until after my death!

  13. 31VJDE says:

    You’ve got a REALLY good memory Hondo!!! I was there during President Reagan’s visit to Liberty Bell. I was one of the chaps on security detail (standing with my weapon) during his speech. I also remember seeing the Gipper present a private in the hospital with a Purple Heart on AFKN for being wounded at the Panmunjom defection/shootout. Back in those days I used to have to go to Collier and Olette etc.,(oops! did I give away the small remote facility?? to punch secures and just hang out sometimes. I was stationed at Camp Howze 1/31 but was assigned to C 1/9th for a spell. Let’s say patrol rotation – Anyway, I’m quite sure that anything spoken of about that militarily arcaic time to include pos, certainly wouldn’t breach OPSEC. Also, I’m surprised you didn’t mention that Freedom Bridge was riddled with holes from a variety of rounds. Pretty spooky to a green kid. And I was given my Imjin Scout patch but was told it was now against Army reg’s to wear on my uniform – I might add as well that President Ronald Reagan was a true gentleman and President. He treated all of us like we were his close friends. Exceptional man. On another note, post script I guess; I’ve heard MANY people speak about their “Tour of Duty” in the “ROK” over the last 30 years and a lot of them aren’t even AWARE of the tensions North vs South unless they were stationed near it, in it, or rotated into Liberty Bell. It’s really amazing. Taegu? Pusan? Cheju do Islands maybe? -
    And yes, the TDC nights/days as well as any “down range” day pass or over night pass WILL breach OPSEC!! JDE HHC 1/31 BN Commo ’83-’84

  14. 31VJDE says:

    * I meant, rotated in to Warrior Base. Sorry -

  15. RockMarne says:

    Actually Pak Chul has been seen since the 194 JSA firefight. In 1994, Pak Chul was a major general and was interviewed by Mike Chinoy, then of CNN, during the 1994 north Korean nuclear crisis. I saw the interview broadcast on AFN when I was in the Sinai on the MFO mission. Unlike many north Koreans who speak English, Pak spoke excellent, idiomatic English. It was the kind of English he must have learned from working in the JSA and being around GI’s every day prior to the division of the JSA after the 1976 “Axe Murders” incident.

  16. Great article! I was stationed at Caamp Greaves from 01/82 till 04/83. During that period I was the bridge team and posted under the freedom bridge during alerts. Should the “baloon of gone up” that would probly been the end of the line for me. Had many good times in the Manchu club when their were no passes to go south of the freedom bridge. Done my share of duty at guard post Collier and Olett. Yes indeed, the coldest days and nights ever experienced in my life was in Korea. While I was there I couldn’t wait to get back state side but now that I am older I look back on those days and miss them and the friends I made there. Keep Up The Fire. MANCHU

    • Jesse Camacho says:

      Hey Burlingame, I hope this is you. I also served with CSC from 82 to 83. SFC Danley was my platoon sgt when I first got there. Let me see, do you remember Big Johnny Jackson, 1st Sergeant? We served together my brother. Take care

      Jesse

  17. You’re correct….@#%^#! computer…number 17 was mine. I didn’t read it over before posting and seen I had some really bad typo’s after it posted. My bad!

  18. cecil Dailey says:

    camp casey 82/83 dmz what a trip,this place is truly a living hell time bomb ready to go off,never 4get i fell in a hole while being on point,

  19. Dtrooper1982 says:

    Was stationed in the ROK from 1981-1982 with D Troop 4/7 CAV (Air) from 1981-1982 at Camp Stanton (from May to November ’81) and then at Camp La Guardia (November ’81 to May ’82). The experience of flying in AH-1G/AH-1S and UH-1 helicopters in the Western Corridor and along the Buffer Zone are deeply embedded in my psyche. I will be forever honored to say that I served in the 2nd ID with President Reagan as my Commander-in-Chief. “First in Last out” and “Think War”!

  20. Jesse Camacho says:

    I arrived on Camp Greaves in 1982. It was Spring and it was a bit foggy but the air was clean and it was very quiet. I was assigned to Combat Support Company. My 1st Shirts were Thomas Pitts and Johnny Jackson. This was probably the best tour i had in the Army. I was never any closer to anyone than to those i was assigned with in Korea. Thanks for posting the pics.

  21. Mike lampe says:

    Hondo you brouht back memories of one of the best and worse of my military tours. “Korea, the armys greatest secret”.
    Camp Pelham 2/17th FA.”On Guard, Sir”. FO and recon Sgt 1/76 – 2/77. Many cold nights at Nightmare Range Santa Barbara. Frequent trips to GP Collier and Ollet when FA brtys changed at 4Papa1. Operation Paul Bunyan on Olett for 3 weeks during the incident. House boys and more girls per square foot in Seonyu-ri clubs then anywhere else in the Western Corridor. Passing Honey wagons doing PT after a night of drinking. It was a long 13 months but I would go back and do it again.

  22. mark o'hara says:

    I was stationed an Greaves when Reagan visited. We practiced for about a week prior to ensure our parade skills were sharp. Just prior to his arrival we were sent out on patrol, we were angry! anyone out there from 1/9 cohort unit originating from Fort Ord 3/17?

  23. Ron McNutt says:

    Was in Ouijungbu in 63-65. 51st Sig Bn

  24. D. Noble says:

    Spent 1958-59 at Camp St. Barbara, just northeast of Camp Beaver. Assigned to 1st Obsn Bn, 25th Arty, part of I Corps Arty. Drove the road to Uijonbu (MSR 3?) several times. I Corp Hq was there at Camp Red Cloud.

  25. julian trevino says:

    SPENT MY TOUR IN THE ROK AT CAMP BEAVERS. WENT TO
    PANMUNJOM SEVERAL TIMES. REMEMBER WALKING AROUND THAT
    COMPOUND AMONGST THE NORTH KOREAN GUARDS. WE COULD NOT EVEN MAKE EYE CONTACT. AS A 19 YEAR OLD, I HEARD THAT THEY WILL TRY TO PUSH ( ACCIDENTALLY) YOU IN THE DOOR TO ONE OF THEIR BUILDINGS THERE. SCARY AND A PLACE TO ALWAYS HAVE A SERIOUS FACE ON. NOW DECADES AFTER , HOW I MISS IT.

    SALUTE TO THAT SEVERED IN KOREA

  26. Jaroy Roberts says:

    Spent 12 months north of the Imjim at Camp Bonifas and Pan Mun Jom. You did realize the gravity of where you were at all times. But I enjoyed my time there, and was honored to serve there.

  27. Kimchiman says:

    I was at Garry Owen in 83-84 with 4-7, also again in 87-90. Then 91-00, was a contractor based out of Casey.

    Cross Freedom Bridge several times over the years, something most people don’t know or even understand the gravity what it was like then…

  28. Randy Listol says:

    Stationed in Taegu 85-86 for 8th Army. Had an absolute blast with the experiences of the country. My best Army duty assignment.

  29. Sean says:

    I enjoyed reading this article a lot. I was stationed at Greaves with the 1/506 in 1989. It was my first and best duty station. Thanks for the memories.

  30. Lyle Willock says:

    Tours in Korea have a way of sticking in your memories. I was a senior aidman medic at dispensary HHC 2ID Camp Howze 11/69-01/71. Many trips in open jeeps in snow storms to 44th MASH , driving past Stanton army airfield. Many trips to 2nd med bn for supplies for ou pharmacy. I was on stage with Bob Hope and Johnny Bench for show in Dec 1970 at RC1, only 16 degrees. I drove many ambulance trips down MSR to Yongson to hospital, also trips to Usom club for steaks and a few scotch on the rocks. I delivered a baby for a GIs wife on one of those trips at 3am . God bless you all for your service and sacrifice, Hooaah!

    • john mitten says:

      I spent December 69 – January 1971 with at 44 MASH OR SHMA,sometimes as the lone anesthetist just out of training – interesting assignment. Any idea how far the 44th was from the DMZ? We heard the Artilary all the time and was told they could hear our tape decks at 1 a. m.! We would syn. about 6 tape decks playing “Marching thru Georgia” or something. One time HQs.,Camp Howze contacted us to turn down the Volume! As one gets older it’s harder to spell correctly.Spent 26 in Army but the 44th was one of the most memorable.

  31. Jesse Camacho says:

    I served with CSC 1/9th, 82 to 83. I made some very good friends while I was there and wish so much that we had computers and email back then…..lol. My memories of Korea and the Z will always be there. God bless

    • tim Donahue says:

      hey Jesse my name is Tim Donahue I was at camp Greaves July 80-81 C.CO TOW PLATOON WE WERE MIXED IN WITH THE MOTOR MAGGOTS DO YOU REMEMBER THE PAINTING ON THE SIDE OF THE QUONSET HUT ‘ RAINING TEARS FROM ABOVE” WE WERE DOWN BY THE ROAD I THINK THAT OUR BARRACKS WERE CLOSEST BARRACKS TO THE MANCHU CLUB I AM LOOKING FOR GUYS THAT I SERVED WITH AND SAW YOUR POST, ABOUT THE CLOSET I HAVE FOUND SO FAR, WHAT THE HELL DID THAT PLACE DO TO US AFTER ALL THESE YEARS ,LOOK AT US , I GUESS SOMETHING IS MISSING. YOU TAKE CARE MY BROTHER ” KEEP UP THE FIRE ON THEIR ASS”

  32. Dennis W.Fogg says:

    I served jan.20 1964 thru feb 6 1965 with the 168th medical battalion Hdq Det. at Camp Mosier,near uijonbu which was the home of the 43rd surg. hosp.which at one time was the 8055 mobile army surgical hospital of m.a.s.h. fame

  33. John Atwood says:

    Served with Bravo company, 1/506th inf at Camp Greaves from May 1994 to may 1995. Have some great memories.

  34. einar sorli says:

    i served 16 or 17 months in camp page 10 60 to 3 62 got extended for 3 months becose the berlin wall was put up then i was the guy who didnt go out on pass for the first monyth was now as the guy who all i want for xmass is my 2 front teeth can be reached at 631 5122739

  35. James Beegle says:

    I spent 12 months on the DMZ, A Troop 1st Recon 9th Cav.. 1964 – 1965.

  36. tim Donahue says:

    LOOKING FOR MY LOST LOVED BROTHERS IN ARMS SERVED AT CAMP GREAVES JULY 1980-JULY 81 CHARLIE CO, my Mos was 11H tow gunner looking for Mark Walker, Johnson, Williams , Heitz, Chacon, Titus, Evans, and dont forget La Cross, the names are starting to slip my memory, its been along time i hope that you guys are well God Bless

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