Three American and three South Korean soldiers were recognized by senior military leaders Thursday for their roles in rescuing a North Korean defector who was shot multiple times while fleeing the country last week.
Video footage of the defector's daring escape — which shows him running across the border that divides the two countries while being pursued by North Korean soldiers — captured global attention when it was released Wednesday by the U.S. military command in South Korea.
The man made it to the South Korean side of the border before he collapsed from his wounds and was dragged to safety by U.S. and South Korean personnel.
"You were all in the range of North Korean fire," Gen. Kim Byeong-joo, deputy commander of the U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces Command, told the troops during a ceremony at Camp Bonifas. "It was a precarious situation . . . [and] a showcase of great leadership."
The dramatic scene, which unfolded shortly before 4 p.m. on Nov. 13, occurred as tension among the three countries has soared in recent months, with the threat of conflict being driven by the often volatile exchanges between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In striking video footage of the escape, the defector can be seen driving a jeep through the demilitarized zone, the strip of heavily protected land that has long separated the two nations. After his vehicle became stuck in a ditch, the man jumped out and fled south on foot as four North Korean soldiers gave chase and opened fire on him.
Hit at least five times, he collapsed on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area, the only place where North and South Korean soldiers directly face each other. Two soldiers from the joint command then crawled out to the man, while others in the unit monitored the situation.
In his remarks, Kim lauded the unit's officers for taking the lead during the rescue instead of sending in their subordinates. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who oversees U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command, also credited the soldiers for de-
escalating an incident that "threatened the 64-year-old armistice."
U.S. Army Commendation Medals were awarded to Sgt. 1st Class Noh Yeong Soo, Sgt. 1st Class Song Seoung Hyeon, Sgt. Robert Hartfield, Maj. Jeffery Schmidt, Lt. Col. Kwon Young Hwan and Lt. Col. Matthew Farmer, according to U.S. Forces Korea.
"You made a difference," Brooks said as he presented the medals.
The ceremony came just as new details about the North Korean defector began to emerge. On Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported that the man has said he is 24 and that his family name is Oh. He remains in serious condition at Ajou University Hospital, where he is being treated for multiple gunshot wounds as well as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and intestinal worms.
The event came as the soldiers at Camp Bonifas — a military post just south of the DMZ — prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving. The medal ceremony took place in a hall festooned with holiday banners and decorated with ornamental gourds and other autumnal trimmings.
"Happy Thanksgiving," Kim said, his only remarks in English. "And thank you for your service in Korea."