There have been many flashpoints on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) over the years with patrols being ambushed and even American barracks being bombed, but there has probably never been a North Korean attack as brazen as the ambush on Camp Liberty Bell.
On the afternoon of August 28, 1967 soldiers of Charlie Company 76th Engineer Battalion had just returned to Camp Liberty Bell for dinner after a hard day of working on improving the main road that travels north to the Korean armistice village of Panmunjom located 2.3 kilometers north of the camp.
Google Earth image of the DMZ area.
Some soldiers were sitting down on tables eating while many others were still waiting in line to get their food. As the soldiers went through their daily ritual to get their chow suddenly shots rang out and bullets smashed into the chow hall building. Soldiers ran for cover and others turned over the chow hall tables in hopes they would provide adequate cover from the incoming bullets.
The soldiers outside also raced for cover and spotted the gunmen on a 100 meter hill overlooking Camp Liberty Bell firing down on the American soldiers. The camp’s quick reaction force (QRF) raced to prepare a counterattack against the enemy. With shots still ringing out the quick reaction force advanced up a road leading up to the top of the hill to intercept the gunmen. The QRF took two casualties as they advanced up the road when one of the American soldiers stepped on a landmine planted by the North Korean commandoes.
By the time the QRF was able to get to the top of the hill the commandoes fled. The QRF estimates that they saw about 9-12 North Korean commandoes on the hill and found over 1,000 rounds of unspent Soviet 7.62 ammo left at the firing position on the hill. The QRF followed the commandoes’ tracks leading from the position and determined they had successfully crossed back over the DMZ to North Korea.
You can see the hills around Camp Liberty Bell and the road the QRF traveled up the hill on.
The aftermath of the attack saw Camp Liberty Bell with pools of blood splattered across the compound mixed with the shouts of pain and suffering from the wounded. Unfortunately three soldiers could not shout out in pain because they lied dead on the ground after the North Korean attack. The initial dead included one American, Specialist Michael Vogel and two Korean KATUSA soldiers that died in the unprovoked attack. Private First Class Curtis Rivers was seriously wounded and would later die of his wounds raising the death toll further.
The attack was considered the most serious attack since the signing of the Korean armistice agreement in 1953 that involved an area south of the demilitarized zone. Other much deadlier ambushes occurred against soldiers on patrol along the DMZ though one attack happened in 1967 against another American rear camp when a Camp Walley barracks was bombed by a North Korean sapper team killing two US soldiers and wounding seventeen more while they slept.
Photo of the Camp Liberty Bell front gate in 1974.
The attack on Camp Liberty Bell proved even more deadly with a total of four soldiers dead and many more soldiers and civilians wounded. In total twenty-six people were wounded in the attack that included fourteen US soldiers, nine South Korean soldiers, and three Korean civilian employees. The United Nations Command made the usual protests against the North Koreans during a meeting a Panmunjom and of course the North Korean communists denied all knowledge of the attack. This attack would be one in a long series of attacks that would occur against frontline forces stationed in Korea in what would eventually come to be known as the DMZ War.