July 27, 1953, 158 meetings spread out over two years and 19 days finally came to an end with the signatures of United States Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison and General Nam Il, a Soviet-born Korean on the Korean Armistice Agreement. United Nations Commander Gen. Mark Clark, Gen. Peng Teh-huai, commander of the Chinese People's Volunteers, and Marshal Kim II Sung, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, would sign later. No signatures were received from any representative of South Korea.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) states that the Korean Armistice Agreement is unique in that it is purely a military document, no nation is a signatory to the agreement. The Armistice Agreement did a number of things; to include suspending open hostilities and called for the withdrawal of all military forces and equipment from a 4,000-meter-wide zone, establishing the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the forces. It also established no fly zones preventing both sides from entering the air, ground, or sea areas under control of the other. Additionally, it arranged the release and repatriation of prisoners of war and displaced persons and established the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) and other agencies to discuss any violations and to ensure adherence to the truce terms.
For one Marine, Korean Armistice Day can never be far from his purview as he had the honor as his company's bugler (2nd Division Marine Band, 1st Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division) to play Taps to signal the Korean War armistice at the United Nations Headquarters in Panmunjom, Korea, effectively ending the Korean War. Sgt. Robert Henry Erickson shared his once in a lifetime experience with Tracey Atlgilbers during an oral history interview for the Library of Congress Veteran's History Project.
"Well, I was the bugler that signaled the ceasefire at the end of the war," said Erickson. "That was my main claim to fame. I was at near Panmunjom, where all the ceasefire talks were being held, and on the morning of July 27, 1953, Lt. Gen. Harrison, representing the United States and the UN, met with Gen. Nam I1 at Panmunjom at 10:00 that morning. They signed the agreement that the fighting would stop at 10:00 that night. After the signing of the ceasefire agreement, the order went out to all the artillery units from coast to coast, 155 miles, to open fire, and they did for 12 hours. As fast as they could load and shoot, they shot at North Koreans and Chinese, and after it got dark that night, the firing and explosions were so intense that you could read a newspaper by the light of the flashes. At 9:45 the firing stopped. You could hear a pin drop. It was unnerving. It was too quiet. I could not believe it was happening. Everybody thought, well, somebody is going to take a shot, but finally at 2200 hours, 10:00p.m., having heard no further firing, I directed my bugle over the United Nations Command and played "Taps" to signal that the firing had stopped and the ceasefire was in effect."
Erickson's contribution did not go unnoticed. In 1995, The Ronald Reagan Commission, appointed by Ronald Reagan to dedicate the National Korean War memorial, contacted him and asked if he would be the bugler for the dedication of the memorial in Washington, D.C.
"I went to Washington, D.C. and was the official bugler for the dedication of our National Memorial," said Erickson. "In 2003, the South Korean government invited me back to South Korea and paid my way to be the bugler for the 50th anniversary of the ceasefire that I originally played for."
Erickson also played his bugle for the Veterans Home in Quincy, Ill. During the 60th anniversary of Korean Armistice Day. He ended his interview by saying that he was proud to have served and having the honor of playing his bugle for the agreement that ended the war in Korea.
While we remember the importance of and lessons learned from the Korean Armistice Agreement, it is also important to remember the service members who were a part of the war and contributed to the end of war. While North and South Korea remain separate and occupy almost the same territory they had when the war began, the lives of the Sailors and Marines who fought in the Korean War were forever changed when the war ended. For one Marine, it is his claim to fame that he will never forget.
Lee, C. (1969). Korea: The Politics of the Vortex. By Gregory Henderson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968. Pp. 479.American Political Science Review, 63(3), 933-934. doi:10.1017/S0003055400258772
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