That time North Korean commandos tried to assassinate the South Korean president at home
North Korea might be a little provocative these days but the 1960’s DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name), was the annoying middle child of international Communism.
The 60’s were an important decade in the Cold War because American activity was increasing in Vietnam, and the U.S. would not be able to respond to North Korean provocations in a timely manner. The North felt it had more room for aggression against its southern neighbor their western allies. Just days before they captured the USS Pueblo in international waters, the North sent a special ops unit, “Unit 124,” south with the sole purpose of assassinating President Park Chung-hee.
Thirty one of the best men from the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army were handpicked to infiltrate South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The team trained for two years in everything from land navigation and airborne operations to hand-to-hand combat and special weapons. They spent two full weeks practicing the raid in a full-scale reconstruction of South Korea’s Presidential complex, the Blue House.
When the time came, the commandos crossed the DMZ undetected via the sector controlled by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Seoul was a three-day march away. The death squad moved at night and set up camp before daybreak. The next night, they did the same, this time setting up on Simbong Mountain, where two brothers out collecting firewood stumbled upon the North Korean commando camp.
Instead of killing or otherwise subduing the two brothers, the commandos tried to turn the two using a speech about the benefits of North Korean Communism, and then let the two go as long as they promised not to tell the the authorities. Which, of course, they immediately did.
The Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) sent three battalions into the mountains to search for the North Koreans. The commandos were still able to enter the South Korean capital that night, where they changed into ROKA uniforms and marched as normal ROKA troops to within 100 meters of the Presidential home. That’s when a police patrol stopped them and a suspicious police chief began to question them.
The Communists immediately shot the police chief, then lit up the checkpoint with grenades. They retreated into the woods near the complex and tried to make their way back to North Korea. The ensuing firefight would kill 29 of the commandos, with one captured and one escaping back north. The South Koreans suffered 26 killed and 66 wounded, 12 of those civilians. Four American troops were killed trying to prevent the communists from recrossing the DMZ.
The last commando was killed on January 23, 1968, the same day the Pueblo was captured. Because the event, now known at the “Blue House Raid,” happened three days before the Pueblo incident and 12 days before the launch of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the raid was largely forgotten by both the U.S. and international media, but was not forgotten by South Korean media. Ever.
If Kim Il-Sung, then the living President of North Korea (now the dead President of North Korea), wanted Park Chung-hee dead, all he had to do was wait 11 years. The head of Park’s own intelligence agency did the job for him, shooting him and three bodyguards at point blank range during a dinner at a safe house. President Park’s daughter, Park Gyun-Hye is the current President of South Korea, which really bothers the North for some reason.