“I had a very good tour in Korea, mainly because of my job,” said Dean Parks, who served in Korea during the Vietnam era.
He served as a counterintelligence agent from January to October 1971.
“I was told before I went over, ‘This is the best kept secret in the Army,’” he stated.
“Korea, like Vietnam, was a divided country, North and South – you can still read about that today,” he continued. “There was never a treaty to officially end the Korean War; there was an armistice that was signed, which basically just indicated that the hostilities would cease – but in reality, in a lot of ways, they never did.
“The North Korean leader at the time wanted to try and create unrest between the two Koreas in hopes it would further the war against the United States in Vietnam.”
The years 1967 and 1968 saw an uptick in activity in Korea. During 1967, a large number of North Koreans attempted to infiltrate South Korea. On January 21, 1968, an assassination attempt “was nearly made” on the South Korean president by a 31-man North Korean commando team, said Parks. This occurred less than 48 hours before the USS Pueblo was captured by the North Koreans. One crewman was killed, and the rest were held as prisoners for nearly a year. January 1968 was also when the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam, so the government had many military concerns in that region about events “that might aid the communist efforts in Vietnam,” said Parks.
“I was told while I was in training, ‘If there’s another war that breaks out while we’re in Vietnam, it will be Korea again,’” he said.
That’s the primary reason Parks was sent to South Korea in 1971.
“They were trying to increase the people in my military occupation specialty in preparation for that,” he said.
Parks and others in military intelligence had varied assignments, primarily investigative in nature. Such duties included studying North Korean infiltrations into South Korea.
“Investigating that was part of our responsibility,” he said. “After they were discovered, then our responsibility was to determine as much as you could about the circumstances that led up to it.
“One of the things I remember we learned is that they used the lights on the Hawk missile batteries at night to guide themselves across the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and down into South Korea.”
The North Koreans also stashed equipment, clothing, food and weapons. They dug tunnels under the DMZ or attempted to get into South Korea by sea with boats.
If those forays resulted in any wounded or killed in action, they were designated as an Operation Bookstrike, and an investigation would begin after the infiltrators were neutralized, Parks said.
“Our report was to be on the desk of the Commanding General for the 8th Army in Seoul within 48 hours. I was involved in one of the last of these investigations before the responsibility was taken over by the South Koreans,” he said.
However, this incident turned out to be a homeless South Korean man.
“He had the equivalent of seven cents American in his pockets,” Parks recalled.
Parks said the North Koreans often used “balloons with timing devices, so that they would float across the DMZ and explode.” Inside were propaganda leaflets that would flutter down to the ground on the South Korean side. The homeless man may have been influenced by such literature. Attempting to cross into North Korea, he could not wade through the Imjin River and had to return to South Korea. At the time, after-hours travel was restricted because of a curfew.
“He stumbled onto a South Korean Army compound and was noticed by a sentry. After being challenged by the sentry, he turned around and ran,” Parks said. “At nighttime, that close to the DMZ, they shoot first and ask questions later.”
The man was hit, crawled into a farmer’s chicken coop and died there, he said.
Parks was stationed at Camp Red Cloud in the Uijeongbu area between Seoul and the DMZ. He was assigned to the 201st Military Intelligence Detachment with I Corps. Most times Parks and his colleagues didn’t wear uniforms – they wore sports coats and ties.
“We were referred to by the honorific title of Mister followed by our last names,” said Parks. “If we wore fatigue-style uniforms in the field, we had patches on our collar that said U.S. and a tab above our shirt pocket that said DAC, which stood for Department of the Army Civilian. I routinely dealt with higher-ranking personnel, and we just didn’t want the rank thing to be an issue.”
In addition to investigating potential infiltration activities, Parks performed background investigations and interviewed people on active duty, as well as Korean nationals employed by the Army.
“It was a question of loyalty, especially if they still had relatives in North Korea,” Parks said.
He also conducted security inspections to “make sure people with access to classified information had the proper security clearance and that information was being properly handled,” he said. Parks and other MI officials also investigated the possibility that anti-war protests and racial unrest may have been inspired or supported through communist finances.
Additionally, Parks served as a liaison agent.
“From February to October, I was the liaison agent for two division-level army security units with the South Korean Army,” he said. “For a couple of months before getting discharged, I was also the liaison agent for a corps-level army security unit. As such, I usually met with them at least weekly, accompanied by one of our four military intelligence specialists (or Korean interpreters), to learn about activities in their area of responsibility that were of interest to us.”
Prior to serving in Korea, Parks had an inkling of what he would pursue as a career. Born in Casper, he and his family moved to Idaho when he was 5 years old. He graduated from the College of Southern Idaho, specializing in law enforcement. When the time came to be drafted or enlist, Parks chose the latter.
“I had some career plans in mind, and I thought, ‘If I’ve got to serve, I will, but I’ll do it on my terms rather than their terms,’” he said.
When he met with the recruiter, Parks intended to enlist in the military police; that’s when he learned about military intelligence. He assumed only career personnel were assigned such duties, but the recruiter told him “they need a certain number of new guys too.”
“Besides my age and no criminal record, the other main requirement was that I be able to obtain a Top Secret Security clearance,” he said. “Even though that was the level of security clearance I was granted, I never had the need to know anything that classified higher than Secret. All of my duties were very routine, and I was never involved in any cloak-and-dagger stuff.”
His basic training was done at Fort Lewis, Washington, and he attended U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird near Baltimore, Maryland, which no longer exists.
“People who need the type of training I received now go to Fort Huachuca in Arizona,” Parks stated.
After his 10-month tour in Korea, he returned to Wyoming; his family had relocated to the state. He spent 29 years in law enforcement, including 22 years with the Division of Criminal Investigation. He also served on the Glenrock police department and with the Converse County Sheriff’s Office in Douglas. His work while in the military “had a big impact on what I did when I got out,” Parks said.
“I was, I guess you’d say, pretty focused on what I had in mind of trying to do, and I just followed through with it – it just appealed to me,” he stated.
Finding a niche in military intelligence wove directly into Park’s career of choice, and he enjoyed his service.
“I had a good tour … especially the duties that we had to perform. I just enjoyed the work. I appreciated the training and experience,” he said.