South Korea’s “Dirty Dozen”

Occasionally I stumble across stories that are so outlandish and bizarre that I’m surprised that I hadn’t known of them before. The saga of Unit 684 is one such story.

On January 20 1968, a platoon of North Korean infiltrators attempted to assassinate the president of South Korea, Park Chung-hee, by assaulting the Blue House, the presidential residence in Seoul. Three months later, South Korea commissioned Unit 684 (named according to the month it was formed) to retaliate by assassinating Kim Il-sung of North Korea. The unit was recruited from prisoners and street criminals who were offered a second chance at life if their mission succeeded. Training occurred on the small island of Silmido, near Inchon, and was so grueling that 7 of the 31 recruits were killed in the process.

By 1969 the unit was ready, but the mission was canceled due to improved relations between the Koreas. After being confined on Silmido for over three years, with no guarantee about their future, the unit mutinied in August 1971. They killed several of the guards on the island, and then made their way to the mainland, where they hijacked a bus and headed toward Seoul. After they were stopped by a roadblock of regular troops, 20 unit members killed themselves with hand grenades, and the 4 remaining survivors were executed following a military tribunal. And so ended Unit 684.

After a film based on the incident was released in 2003, the RoK officially acknowledged the existence of the unit. I find this interesting, because while the film adds a few dramatic elements to the story, the plot closely mirrors the actual incident. I wonder how the producers learned about it in the first place.

Buildings on Silmido: abandoned training facilities, or film sets?