Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The nine-hour occupation of Namsan by two GIs in 1973

When I heard about the most recent shooting incident by a Korean soldier, an incident from the 1970s I'd seen mentioned once - perhaps at ROK Drop - came to mind, and I became curious to learn more. Here's the introduction to a New York Times article about the incident, which took place on Monday, April 2, 1973.
2 GI's Occupy Police Tower in the Heart of Seoul
Two American soldiers, armed with light machine guns and M-16 rifles, holed up in a hilltop police box here for nine hours today demanding honorable discharge from Army service and a safe trip out of South Korea.
In truth, I was able to find that article only after searching the Naver News Library and finding the following article published on April 3, 1973, by the Donga Ilbo:
Two armed US soldiers in 9 hour disturbance 
Demand to be discharged, occupy guard post, afterwards turn themselves in

From 10 am on April 2, two American soldiers armed with service weapons occupied the guard post on the hill next to the Namsan TV Antenna and held a sit-in for 9 hours and gave themselves up at 7:40 pm.

USFK headquarters announced on the afternoon of the second that Sgt. Michael McDonald, 25 and private Terry Hergert, 22 from Camp Humphries in Pyeongtaek demanded an honourable discharge from the army, exemption from arrest by Korean and US officials, and being able to safely leave Korea.

Korean military and police blocked off the entire area, and with the help of the US military they were advised to turn themselves in.

That afternoon, after being persuaded by private Johnnie Dunn, who works in Seoul, they turned themselves in and returned to barracks.

USFK authorities disclosed that they were arrested and are under investigation.

A spokesperson for USFK headquarters expressed regret for the incident to the people of Korea.
We're provided with basic information above, but its source is clearly USFK (made clear by the fact that in Korean, the article lists their names and ranks followed by numbers (이이), (이오), which I correctly guessed were their ages; apparently a translator didn't quite understand that). A lot has been left out, as the following Stars and Stripes article (which began on page one of the Pacific edition) published on April 4, 1973 reveals:

That's quite the "veritable arsenal of weapons" that they had: "at least three high-caliber machine guns, two grenade launchers, two M16 automatic rifles, shotguns, pistols, more than a thousand rounds of ammunition, at least two cases of grenades, blankets, several days' supply of field rations and other assorted items[.]" Yikes. One wonders what led them to take such drastic - if ridiculous - action.

From the police and military response, with even the C-in-C of UN command making an appearance and soldiers surrounding the mountain, it doesn't seem like a minor event, though that's how it was reported in the Donga Ilbo. From the descriptions in the above Stars and Stripes article, it's clear much was left out of the Donga Ilbo's account. Though S&S describes Korean police as having described the nine people as hostages, the Donga Ilbo did not, perhaps due to censorship for the sake of the alliance? 

On July 1, 1973. Stars and Stripes reported on the upcoming trial of the GIs for larceny (stealing the weaponry) and aggravated assault, which would suggest that claims by US military officials that the nine persons held by the two soldiers weren't 'hostages,' and that 'they were at no time forced to stay in the building' were false.

On July 26, 1973, Stars and Stripes reported on the outcome of the trial:

We're still left with no explanation of why the soldiers did what they did. Would any readers out there have any idea? One also wonders what kind of sentence they would have gotten if they had actually fired the weapons.

To go off on a tangent, in this case regarding Seoul's history, I found the mention of a construction worker "who was working on a nearby television tower" to be of interest. That tower was Namsan Tower, which, according to Wikipedia, was completed, in its initial form, in December 1971. Apparently, it wasn't until 1975 that the upper observatory was added to the tower; one assumes it was this that was under construction when the incident took place in 1973. As Wikipedia tells us, "The tower was open to the public for the first time on October 15, 1980." To get an idea of what the tower looked like without the upper observatory, here is a shot taken in 1972, which is from a Naver Cafe (to get to it click on any of the photos here):

It's interesting to see such an iconic structure in an incomplete form.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Please update if you hear anything about the motives. Something like this could have sparked and international incident had news gotten out, could have led to even further dissent. Its no wonder the domestic papers tried to downplay the incident

Mama said...

Looking for one more article that includes the photo of the 4 Army MP's that were first on the scene. Mark Howell was the first MP to enter the building and we are looking for that article/photo. Any suggestions to locate?