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Although it's only a footnote in history now, a poplar tree came close to sparking World War III in 1976.

The setting was the DMZ between North and South Korea, and the offending tree was situated near the Bridge of No Return, blocking the view between two UN checkpoints in the Joint Security Area. Eight UNC enlisteds, one South Korean officer, and two American officers (a captain and first lieutenant) were dispatched to chop down the tree on August 18.

Before they could fell the tree, however, a North Korean officer came by and told the UN party to stop cutting. The captain, in essence, told the North Korean to get stuffed. Then, a work detail of thirty North Korean soldiers, armed with picks and hatchets, appeared, and after a brief argument, the North Korean officer ordered his men to attack. Five of them ganged up on the captain and beat him to a pulp: the lieutenant was also killed in the melee, and the other nine were seriously wounded.

Henry Kissinger favored bombing North Korea at that point, but Gerald Ford had other plans. On August 21, Operation Paul Bunyan began. Another squad of American and South Korean troops were sent to cut down the tree, which was now surrounded by North Korean barricades. This time, however, there were howitzers cocked on the surrounding hills, a squadron of Hueys prowling the sky at low altitude, and a number of B-52 bombers at high altitude, ready to rain hell on the North if another attack took place.

Operation Paul Bunyan was finished within one hour, and the tree was taken away.

A few days later, Kim Il Sung agreed to split the JSA down a central line, so that the North would stay on one side and the South would stay on the other. He would later claim that the entire operation was merely a ploy by Ford to help in the upcoming presidential election. If that was Ford's intention, he certainly lost the battle: Jimmy Carter whipped him three months later.

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