Memorial roll call for soldiers killed in infamous DMZ incident
DEMILITARIZED ZONE — The command sergeant major of the United Nations Command Security Battalion–Joint Security Area boomed out an officer’s name during roll call at a ceremony here Friday morning.
“Capt. Arthur Bonifas,” Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel P. Ciarrocchi called three times.
“He’s no longer with us sergeant major,” a soldier in formation finally answered. The same answer was given for 1st Lt. Mark Barrett.
The memorial roll call was to honor the two soldiers, killed 30 years ago to the day in one of the Joint Security Area’s most infamous incidents.
On Aug. 18, 1976, Bonifas and Barrett were part of a team on a routine tree-trimming detail. They were approached by 30 North Korean guards — who suddenly attacked. The fight lasted just four minutes, according to a ceremony program, but the two officers were “brutally axed to death.”
Three days later, the United Nations Command launched what it calls the “largest tree-trimming operation in history,” given all the military hardware brought to bear.
The regular JSA security force, a combat platoon, 50 South Korean Special Forces martial arts experts and 15 unarmed combat engineers gathered to cut down the tree. Flying just off the coast of the peninsula in support were B-52s, F111s and F-4s. The USS Midway, with full battle escort, stood by off the coast and all forces in South Korea were put on high alert. The task force completed the mission without incident by 7:45 a.m.
On Friday, members of the security battalion and about 50 visitors gathered at the spot to honor Bonifas and Barrett.
Lt. Col. Michael W. Anastasia, security battalion commander, spoke to the crowd about the “fallen comrades.”
“Like all of us here today, Capt. Bonifas and Lt. Barrett were doing a mission important to the security of Americans and Koreans,” he said.