213. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, U.S. Forces Korea (Magruder) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff0

EUSA JOC 70305. 1.(C) At approximately 3:00 am on the morning of 16 May 1961, General Magruder was called on the telephone by Lt General Chang Do Young, Chief of Staff, ROKA, who informed General Magruder that an attempted military coup of the ROK Government was in progress. At this time, he requested that US MPs be committed against ROK Marines. General Magruder refused.

2.(C) General Chang stated that the coup was led by Maj General Pak Jung Hui and that also involved were elements of the 1st Marine brigade from Kimpo Peninsula, the 30th, 31st, 33d reserve divisions, and the ROK Special Forces.

3.(C) Later information indicated that Maj General Pak Jung Hui, Deputy CG, SROKA, assumed command at 6th Military District Headquarters at approximately midnight. At approximately 0300 hours, the reserve battalion of the 1st Marine Brigade of Kimpo peninsula started north across the Soul Han River bridge where a fire fight developed with ROKA MPs. It later developed that the battalion was led by Brig Gen Kim Yun Geun, CG of the 1st Marine brigade.

4.(C) Maj Gen Pak Jung Hui then proceeded to treat with Lt Gen Chang Do Young, in an effort to get Lt Gen Chang to lead the military coup. The KBS radio facilities in the hands of Maj Gen Pak Jung Hui forces, starting at 0500 hours KST, began to make broadcasts in the name of the Revolutionary Committee. The broadcast was made in the name of Lt Gen Chang. It is not believed that Lt Gen Chang authorized the use of his name for this purpose.

5.(C) The Military Revolutionary Committee released a statement that the committee had assumed control of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the ROK Government. The action was taken to terminate corruption and overcome the difficult situation facing the nation. The committee promised that the new government will (1) be strictly anti-Communist, (2) root out corruption, (3) observe the UN Charter and all international agreements and cooperation with the US and all other free nations, (4) endeavor to stabilize the national economy, (5) unify Korea as an anti-Communist nation, and (6) turn over the reins of government [Page 450] to “honest and competent political leaders.” The statement concluded with an appeal to citizens to report for work as normal.

6.(C) At Gen Magruder’s request, Gen Chang visited Gen Magruder in his office at approximately 0630 hours. At this time Chang gave Gen Magruder the impression that he was not a party to the revolution, but desired to negotiate with the revolutionaries to prevent bloodshed. Chang stated he wished to talk to military cmdrs to get assurance they would back him in opposing revolution. He was reluctant to call in ROKA troops.

7.(C) In later talk with Magruder, Chang indicated he was still negotiating with Pak in an endeavor to get Pak to operate through the ROK Government. Chang requested Pak to make his demands known to the government.

8.(C) Chang indicated to Gen Magruder he would request the President to declare martial law with Chang as martial law cmdr thus enhancing Chang’s position vis-a-vis Pak.

9.(C) As of 160900 May 61, “the Military Revolution Committee” announced over the radio that the entire nation had been place under emergency martial law. Composition of the committee as announced over the Korean radio was: Lt Gen Chang Do Young, Chairman; Maj Gen Pak Jung Hui, Vice Chairman; Lt Gen Yi Han-im, CG, FROKA; Lt Gen Ch’oe Kyong-nok, CG SROKA; Maj Gen So Chong-ch’oi, CG IV MDC; Maj Gen Kim Kye-won, CG III MDC; Maj Gen Pak Ki-pyong, CG V MDC; and Maj Gen Pak Hyon-su, CG log comd. The announcement prohibited all public gatherings and travel to foreign countries; set curfew hours from 1900 to 0500 hours; froze all bank assets; closed all airports and harbors; and established censorship of all publications.

10.(C) By 1000 hours most of downtown Seoul was under control of the Military Revolutionary Committee employing elements of the ROKMC 1st Brigade. The 30th and 33d ROK Reserve Divs, VI Corps Arty Units, and of the 1st Combat Team (Airborne).

11.(C) At approx 1018 hours, the following statement was released by PIO EUSA: General Magruder, in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the UNC, calls upon all military personnel in his Command to support the duly recognized Government of the ROK headed by Prime Minister Chang Myon. General Magruder expects that the Chiefs of the Korean Armed Forces will use their authority and influence to see that control is immediately turned back to the government authorities and that order is restored in the armed forces.

12.(C) Almost concurrently the following statement of Minister Marshall Green, Chargé d’Affaires, American Embassy. The position taken by the Commander in Chief UNC in supporting the freely elected and constitutionally established Government of the ROK is [one with] which I fully concur. I wish to make it emphatically clear that the US supports [Page 451] the constitutional Government of the ROK as elected by the people of the Republic last July and as constituted by the election last August of a Prime Minister.

13.(C) After reading General Magruder’s statement, Gen Lee Han Lim, CG FROKA, stated that he will obey the ROK Government. That if his troops were called upon to put down the insurrection, there might be a few who would not fight the insurrectionists, but most would. Gen Lee has alerted certain troops for possible movement. FROKA has not been alerted.

14.(C) At approx 1030 hours KST Lt General Chang, Chief of Staff,ROKA, went to visit the President of the Republic of Korea who is under no restriction and the Minister of National Defense, who is under house arrest. The President told General Chang that he does not desire martial law to be established in Korea and that he does not desire any firm action to eliminate the revolutionary movement. The Minister of National Defense stated that he does not desire that FROKA troops be used to put down the revolutionary movement.

15.(C) At about 1115 hours, Lt Gen Choi Kyung-muk, CG ROKA, was in communication with General Magruder. He advised that he remained loyal to and would support the government; further he had recalled to their barracks elements of 2 engineer bns which had taken control in Taegu and they had withdrawn.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Korea, Cables, 1/20/61-5/17/61. Confidential. Repeated to the White House, which is the source text, and passed to Ottawa, where President Kennedy was making a State visit to Canada May 16-18. Also repeated to CINCPAC, the Embassy, USIS, and USOM in Seoul, and 16 U.S. military commanders in East Asia.