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Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ross sets up a wreath in honor of Cpl. Jang Myung-gee at the Joint Security Area on Tuesday. Jang was killed when North Korean soldiers violated the Military Demarcation Line in pursuit of a Soviet defector in 1984. Ross served with Jang during the 21-minute firefight.

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ross sets up a wreath in honor of Cpl. Jang Myung-gee at the Joint Security Area on Tuesday. Jang was killed when North Korean soldiers violated the Military Demarcation Line in pursuit of a Soviet defector in 1984. Ross served with Jang during the 21-minute firefight. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ross sets up a wreath in honor of Cpl. Jang Myung-gee at the Joint Security Area on Tuesday. Jang was killed when North Korean soldiers violated the Military Demarcation Line in pursuit of a Soviet defector in 1984. Ross served with Jang during the 21-minute firefight.

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ross sets up a wreath in honor of Cpl. Jang Myung-gee at the Joint Security Area on Tuesday. Jang was killed when North Korean soldiers violated the Military Demarcation Line in pursuit of a Soviet defector in 1984. Ross served with Jang during the 21-minute firefight. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Cpl. Jang Myung-gee's parents, center, remember their son at a ceremony in his honor at the Joint Security Area on Wednesday.

Cpl. Jang Myung-gee's parents, center, remember their son at a ceremony in his honor at the Joint Security Area on Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

JOINT SECURITY AREA, Korea — Each year, Jang Dae-yoon and his wife return to the site where their son died 22 years ago defending a Soviet defector.

Each year, soldiers who served with Cpl. Jang Myung-gee and those who serve today join his parents in mourning that day.

“As the years pass by, the burden gets lighter,” Jang Dae-yoon said Wednesday. “Back in the early days, we would just burst into tears.”

On Nov. 23, 1984, Jang died from North Korean gunfire after Vasily Matusak left his North Korean tour group and dashed across the military demarcation line to the South Korean-controlled side.

Up to 30 North Korean soldiers pursued Matusak over the line while firing their weapons.

The United Nations Command Quick Reaction Force showed up soon afterward, isolating the North Koreans after a 21-minute firefight.

Pfc. Michael A. Burgoyne was injured but survived and three North Koreans were killed.

High-ranking servicemembers from the U.S., South Korean and United Nations armed forces urged those in attendance Wednesday to remember that Jang’s sacrifice had a reason.

“Twenty-two years ago, Cpl. Jang did his duty and fought so a stranger could live his life free from oppression, injustice and brutality,” said Lt. Col. Mike Anastasia, United Nations Command Security Battalion commander.

Anastasia’s words blared through speakers throughout the Joint Security Area, translated into Korean and easily audible to North Korean soldiers in the nearby guard towers.

Afterward, former South Korean soldiers pointed to spots where pivotal moments during the attack occurred.

Sgt. 1st Class Gary Ross fought alongside Jang in repelling the North Korean advance. On Wednesday he retraced his path, and then paused at the Unification Monument, where the North Koreans eventually were outmaneuvered. The conflict ended when a neutral Swiss delegate negotiated a cease-fire.

Wednesday’s ceremony was the third honoring Jang that Ross has attended since being stationed again in South Korea in 2004. It also is his last, at least for a while. Ross is retiring from service next spring.

“It’s sad. These things mean a lot to me,” he said. “I may come back again someday.”

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