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ROK Park Succession Crisis

Friction began to develop in the Washington-Seoul relationship after the United States withdrew one of its two divisions from South Korea in 1971 and intensified after President Park Chung Hee of the Republic of Korea instituted rigorous authoritarian measures under his 1972 constitution. This tension led to an accelerated effort by the Park government to gain support in the United States Congress. The methods used by Seoul's lobbyists ultimately resulted in the embarrassing "Koreagate" affair of 1977, involving former Ambassador Kim Dong-jo and rice dealer Park Tong Sun. Investigations by the Ethics Committee and by the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives received much press coverage and weakened United States support for South Korea.

During his presidential election campaign in 1976, Jimmy Carter pledged, if elected, to withdraw all combat troops from South Korea. His victory aggravated United States-South Korean relations considerably. On 09 March 1977 President Jimmy Carter announced that US ground combat forces would be gradually pulled out of South Korea over a four-to-five year period. Twelve days later President Carter recalled Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, Chief of Staff, US Forces Korea, who had voiced objection to Carter's plan to phase out US troops in Korea. Singlaub was relieved of his Seoul post on May 21. During his visit to Seoul, on 25 July 1977 Secretary of Defense Harold Brown delivered a personal letter from President Jimmy Carter to President Park Chung Hee reaffirming America's defense commitment to South Korea. On 13 December 1977 a group of 219 American soldiers left for the US, the first American ground combat troops to pull out of Korea, and some 3,600 troops subsequently were withdrawn.

On 29 June 1979 President Carter arrived in Seoul for a three-day state visit at the invitation of President Park. And on 20 July 1979 President Carter announced the suspension of the US troop withdrawl.

President Park was assassinated on 26 October 1979, and DEFCON 3 was declared later that day. A powerful American naval task force moved into the Korean strait to counter any possible North Korean plans to exploit the death of President Park, with the Kitty Hawk CVBG ordered to a position south of Korea.

The 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron was directed to deploy to Osan Air Base, Korea. Less than six hours after the tasking was received, the first aircraft lifted off the runway, fully loaded with crews and equipment. Two E-3s and nearly 240 aircrew and support personnel deployed at short notice to South Korea following the assassination of President Park. E-3 crews provided surveillance of the Korean peninsula while adjacent to hostile airspace. 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron crews provided deep look surveillance over the Korean Peninsula and conducted joint training missions to enhance American and Korean air defense capabilities. The crews and E-3s remained in Korea for 60 days and flew 54 missions totaling 372 flying hours.

On 5 November 1979 the DEFCON alert returned to normal.

Soon after Park's assassination, South Korea went through kaleidoscopic changes--intense and open competition for power, student upheavals, a military takeover, a gruesome massacre, and the emergence of a new authoritarian order. In 1980 a growing storm of protest calling for democratic reforms led to the declaration of martial law in South Korea and the massacre of several hundred people in the town of Kwangju. Massive demonstrations by the students continued until May 16, paralyzing the nation. Kwangju, a city of 600,000 people located 170 miles south of Seoul, in South Cholla Province, was the scene of an uprising and bloodbath between May 18 and 27. The United States' role was controversial. General John A. Wickham, Jr., had released South Korean troops from the South Korea-United States Combined Forces Command to end the rebellion; President Reagan had strongly endorsed Chun's actions.

In May 1980 the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron was tasked to return to Asia. Twenty four hours after the deployment order issued, the first crew was on the ground in Okinawa. The Squadron flew missions over Korea for nearly 30 days. While at Kadena the crews assisted the 961st Airborne Warning and Control Squadron in becoming operational two months ahead of schedule. A carrier moved to the area in late May and a carrier presence was maintained through 28 June 1980.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 14:05:29 ZULU