Dehart returns to South Korean, now in counter-intelligence role, helping capture North Korean Intelligence spies trying to infiltrate

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David training South Korean agents how to use ground surveillance radar.
David training South Korean agents how to use ground surveillance radar.

Dave Dehart’s Army career returned him back to Korea in 1962, this time as a counter intelligence agent.  Korea had been his first tour of duty, in 1954 as a GI. Now, he is assigned to “B” Company, 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion in the South Korean capital of Seoul. Then the political and economic situation in South Korea was changing. Army General Park Chung-Hee had helped overthrow the longtime regime of Syngman Rhee as part of a military coup on May 16, 1961.  Under pressure from the Kennedy Administration, General Park agreed to restore civilian control, promising to hold democratic elections “as quickly as possible”. Two years later he was elected as President and continued in office until his assassination in 1979.

President Park with the Kennedy’s.
President Park with the Kennedy’s.

General Park ran the government with a tight fist, both before and after elected. There was a lot of opposition. U.S. military frequently was put on alert, worried that the unstable country might be ripe for North Korean invasion. When Dave arrived in-country, his unit had two missions. The first was to gather intelligence on the political situation and potential for another coup. Dave and another Army agent, Jim Durham, were involved in the second; help capture North Korean spies being inserted into remote islands on the west coast of South Korea. There are hundreds of islands, many uninhabited, ideal for that type of insertion. Generally, NKIS spies collect military intelligence on UN Forces, facilities, locations, troop morale, but can have other specific missions.

Former North Korean spies who knew the method of operations had been recruited. Some were “doubled”; had continued their contact with their North Korean agent handlers, providing active information on intended landing points. Dave explained that spies there were brought ashore by commercial fishing boats. Upon arriving, the spy puts on locally manufactured clothing, and stow spy gear in rubber waterproof bags in a life raft. They have been indoctrinated to the point where they almost are on a suicide mission; given a hand grenade to use on themselves if captured. Dave said he directly participated in four apprehension missions.  In the first three, one was aborted by the South Koreans for unknown reasons; in the second operation, the spy committed suicide by blowing himself up with a hand grenade, “injuring members of our team in the process.” The third, drowned when he became stuck in waist-deep mud in Inchon Bay and could not reach shore before the incoming tide.

Dave (center) with two South Korean agent apprehension team members.
Dave (center) with two South Korean agent apprehension team members.

According to Dave, the fourth spy was almost captured alive. He explained what happened “We knew the insertion point! Spent ten days camped on a mostly uninhabited island, sleeping on flea-infested bamboo mats when we ran out of food.  Jimmy and I brought a case of MRE (Meals Ready to Eat), thinking we’d only be there for a week. The Koreans were also short of rations. A Korean, knew a local he could trust, walked three miles to the only village and returned with the man, bringing boxes of rice balls and large radishes called takuwan.”  

“On the twelfth day,” Dave said “we were running out of food again, when our doubled agent intercepted the long-awaited message via Pyongyang Radio that his incoming spy was to arrive at noon at the preplanned insertion point. I tracked the small fishing boat using Ground Surveillance Radar equipment.  Then followed his movement from the beach, up a steep trail to stash his cache.  At exactly noon, he continued up the mountain trail to the meeting place. However, approaching his ‘greeter’ at the meeting point, the man reached into his pocket and withdrew something that made our Korean sniper shoot the man, thinking he was going to detonate a grenade. Racing to the meeting place, we found the spy dead, with a shiny cigarette lighter in his hand.”  Dave says the spies are still coming South.

I asked Dave for his assessment of the current situation. He responded” I doubt we will ever see any significant change in the regimes in North Korea. Only 8% of the population in that isolated nation were alive in 1950 when the north invaded South Korea, beginning the Korean War. This means that 92 percent of the population were born and raised under the Kim family dictatorships. Every child from birth is indoctrinated in the belief that the world is a threat to their lives and only the Kim’s can save them from annihilation.  Starting with Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current leader, through his son, Kim Jong Il, to Kim Jong Un, the people of North Korea have been subjected to starvation, imprisonment and government sanctioned murders.

Living under that black umbrella of terror for the past 67 years has created a nation where the Kim’s are considered god-like. Freedom of expression can be a death sentence. Even Kim Jong Un has come to believe that he is the ultimate savior of the people. His inner circle of generals fear him and can only kowtow to his policies, or be faced with assassination in the most horrific manner. To think that someday Kim can be convinced to relinquish his hold on that nation and reunite the peoples of the Korean Peninsula, is a pipe dream.  Verbal insults and missile-rattling on the part of the two leaders negates the possibility of a diplomatic resolution.  Unfortunately, the future is bleak beyond imagination.”