The ongoing crisis between the United States and North Korea that could easily go nuclear is an extension of the never-officially-ended 1950-53 Korean War. But, before North Korea became a nuclear power it was just as belligerent as it is today. In fact, according to a fascinating story told by a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, the two countries nearly resumed their hostilities in 1969 after North Korea shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 electronic surveillance plane.
Todd Crowell describes what happened in a compelling article posted at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. At the time, Crowell was a young air force lieutenant posted to the 347th Fighter Wing at Yokota air base in Japan. He was an intelligence officer for a squadron of F-4 Phantoms.
Normally he was to brief Phantom pilots before they went out on regular patrols. The Vietnam War was in full swing and he would share the latest goings on in that battle theatre, along with intelligence gleaned on other military movements in the immediate region. But, April 15, 1969 would be different.
That day the North Koreans ambushed and shot down the American military aircraft over the Sea of Japan, resulting in the deaths of 31 sailors and marines. It was the single largest loss of U.S. aircrew during the Cold War.
Crowell describes his initial reaction to the news, and the attentiveness of his normally bored pilots as he briefed them. Everyone believed they were about to launch air strikes on North Korea, and their target was to be Pukchang-ni air base, just north of the capital, Pyongyang.
In the end, President Richard Nixon did what Donald Trump seems to be doing today: he sent a flotilla of U.S. Navy ships, including aircraft carriers, to the area. But war didn’t break out.
Read the full story at the The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan site.
Todd Crowell is the author of The Coming War Between China and Japan.