The general, colonel and I waded into the Imjin River, on our side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the “no man’s land” separating the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Our new, Shakespeare fishing poles from the Post Exchange were loaded with Zebco spinning reels, monofilament line and Mepps spinners. The holstered pistols on our hips were also loaded.
On this sunny summer Saturday in 1969, A ROK armored unit, artillery and a ROK infantry division on our side of the rocky shoreline pointed dozens of big guns northward, over our heads at the other side.
DPRK propaganda speakers boomed unfriendly threats at us across the riverbed (“You running dog imperialists!”).
What a sight, as we arrived in our Huey chopper an hour earlier. Our ROK troops had erected large, white circus tents, with a food line (the tantalizing smell of Korean barbecue drifting across the river toward the starving enemy) as enchanting, Korean love songs overpowered the DPRK propaganda announcements.
Those days, like today, tensions were deadly. Our U.S. and Korean land, sea and air forces were the military “shield” that stood between Kim Il-sung’s “million man army” and the ROK capital, Seoul, a mere 35 miles south of our position.
We knew that North Korean artillery was aimed over our heads at our ROK tanks while countless rifles were likely trained on us fishermen.
We waded deeper through the cold current of that pristine, never-fished river, casting, laughing, talking loudly — just short of the razor’s edge of the DMZ separating the two Koreas.
We carefully edged upstream as we casted, Gen. William P. Yarborough up front. Col. Arthur David “Bull” Simons followed the boss and I kept an eye on them from my caboose position. About 150 yards separated each of us. We landed a half-dozen trout and acted for our enemy audience as if we were having a jolly old time.
Yarborough was daring the enemy with our lives to attack and “make our day.” Now that’s what a “no-bluff line in the sand” looks like.
Older readers remember that this was the time of frequent incursions by communist infiltrators across the DMZ. Mission: kill and terrorize rice farmers on our side, test our defenses and prepare for an attack on Seoul. They knew that our forces were occupied with other challenges, including the raging Vietnam War and domestic unrest.
This was also the era of the USS Pueblo’s capture. Some refer to these years between 1966 and 1969 as the “Second Korean War,” in view of continuous acts of North Korea’s murderous border crossings.
Most Americans are unaware that we are still at a “state of war” with the DPRK. The “armistice” signed in 1953 provided only for a suspension of conventional warfare.
Our tough military has faced the North over the years. But our leaders have allowed United Nations resolutions to go largely unenforced as the threat grows.
So now, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un, has nuclear missiles, likely capable of hitting my home in Alaska, 3,800 miles away, and other West Coast targets.
Both Yarborough and Simons were veterans of U.S. Army Special Warfare Center/School for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg. They were classic warriors, well studied in modern military science. They were masters of conventional, nonconventional and psychological warfare strategies and tactics, students of many of the greats, from Sun Tsu to von Clausewitz, Patton and McArthur.
They were bold, resourceful and calculated risk takers — best illustrated by Ken Follett’s book, “On Wings of Eagles,” featuring Simons’ assignment after retirement, asked by H. Ross Perot to rescue his EDS employees held hostage in Iran.
During Veterans Day week, former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton commented on the challenges President-elect Donald Trump faces today. Mr. Bolton is an experienced, wise strategist who might also have been comfortable making a psywar point while fishing with us those many years ago on the Imjin. He correctly noted, “Pyongyang has outmatched Washington in every negotiation since the Korean War.”
Mr. Bolton is right that the best path toward a solution to North Korea now will involve China.
Text.rag: I am not saying that our leaders should all go fishing today on the Korean peninsula’s DMZ. I am saying that in this dangerous world all of our adversaries, enemies and friends alike should know by our actions that we stand our ground — as Yarborough once demonstrated.
I am not saying that our leaders should all go fishing today on the Korean peninsula’s DMZ. I am saying that in this dangerous world all of our adversaries, enemies and friends alike should know by our actions that we stand our ground — as Yarborough once demonstrated.
All should believe America won’t try to buy peace with appeasement.
All should be confident that when we draw a line in the sand, we will act to enforce our fair warning.
All should know America will defend our national security with our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
• Dave Harbour served as public affairs officer to the late Lt. Gen. William P. Yarborough in the Republic of Korea civilian and military communities from 1968 to 1969.