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Another major task for the Det was de-conflicting training exercises between the Koreans and the American military. In the 1960s, the North Koreans would send teams south across the DMZ or by boat to wage brutal terror campaigns against the South Korean people, often wiping out villages and murdering entire families. “If Koreans see anyone in their area, the South Koreans would always tell the mayor. South Koreans would know when Special Forces guys were in the area or any other unit,” Lavoie said. In this state of fear, it was important to make sure that everyone knew what was a friendly training exercise and what was a hostile invasion.
One day in 1966, a team of North Koreans infiltrated down the east coast and came ashore in the south. Two school children saw a couple soldiers walking along a rice paddy and told their parents about it. If the South Korean military was doing an exercise in the area, their school would have announced it to the students beforehand. Their parents called the police, who called the military, and it was soon realized they were dealing with a North Korean infiltration. Lavoie and another Green Beret from the Detachment went out with a Korean Special Forces quick reaction force.
While searching for the infiltrators, it was discovered they had already wiped out a small village, killing women and children. It was suspected that the North Koreans were visually identified by the villagers, so they were murdered to prevent further compromise. The South Koreans slowly closed the net on the six infiltrators, squeezing them up on top of a hill that had been surrounded. Lavoie and his teammate stood at the base of the hill as the South Koreans closed in. The sound of gunfire reverberated down the side of the mountain toward the Green Berets, announcing that the infiltrators were finished.
On another occasion, a North Korean infiltrator crossed the DMZ and met with an intelligence asset in the south. Together, they began heading toward Seoul, but soon the South Koreans were on their tail, so they dug a spider hole into the side of a dike and attempted to hide during the night. Before long, the South Koreans caught up with them, killed them both, and took their bodies to a nearby military base. Lavoie heard about the incident and ran to the base to see the bodies with his own eyes, reporting that the asset was an older guy and the North Korean was younger. The latter “had five bullet holes in a perfect circle around his heart. Powder burns all over him.”
In 1967, approximately 22 North Korean infiltrators came down the coast in a boat, landed in South Korea, and went up into the mountains. Billy Basset and another member of the detachment spent several weeks up in the mountains with Korean Special Forces hunting them down. “We were always ready to go,” Basset recalled. “I got the word when it came in to the detachment around three o’clock, and the South Koreans were already on their way to the airport to load up on a plane and get over there. Tom and I got our gear and we called the MPs, and they gave us a red-light escort to the plane. We made it just in time and off we went.”
The two Green Berets and their South Korean counterparts went from village to village asking the locals if they had seen anything suspicious in what became known as Operation Sumcheck. Meanwhile, the North Koreans shelled them, splitting them up into two-man teams. The South Korean Special Forces would report in as scattered firefights took place in the mountains. One North Korean was killed in a farmhouse while wearing civilian clothes. One was actually captured alive.
Basset witnessed the prisoner being interrogated by the South Koreans. “I walked in and the guy was probably six feet tall with an unbelievable build. I stood right in front of him, about four feet back, and I am looking at him because he is a well-built guy. One of the ROK SF officers was interrogating him, and he didn’t like what he heard, so he kicked the guy in the shin. These guys can break boards doing that, but this North Korean guy didn’t blink,” Basset described. This is quite a feat considering South Korean Special Forces practice the martial art of Tae-Kwon-Do every day, most of them being black belts in the fighting style.
Featured image: North Korean infiltrator and intelligence agent killed by South Korean forces, courtesy of Rick Lavoie