This Army Colonel Brokered an Agreement to End the Korean War

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Lt. Col. Howard S. Levie in Panmunjom in December 1951 when he was the Army briefing officer assigned to the United Nations Armistice Commission. (Photo: Naval War College)
Lt. Col. Howard S. Levie in Panmunjom in December 1951 when he was the Army briefing officer assigned to the United Nations Armistice Commission. (Photo courtesy of the Naval War College)

Retired Army Col. Howard S. Levie has plans for the 6,000-volume library that covers the wall space in most of the rooms of his historic house in Newport, Rhode Island. "I've left my books to the Judge Advocate General's school in my will," he explains. It's fitting that this attorney-soldier puts so much stock in words; after all, a document he penned in 1952 has affected world history ever since.

After graduating from Cornell Law School in 1930, Levie practiced in Manhattan for 12 years before volunteering for wartime service in 1942. After three months of basic training as a private, he was sent through Officer Training Camp at Fort Davidson, N.C., and began his 20-year Army career. Finally detailed to the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAGC) in 1948, Capt. Levie worked on claims and on numerous courts-martial before attending Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

He finished that course in May 1950 and was awaiting an assignment when Col. George W. Hickman Jr. (later judge advocate general of the Army) called and said, "Pack a dress uniform; we're flying to Tokyo." Unbeknownst to Levie, he was about to begin a two-year odyssey of negotiations with the North Korean government. "At that time, we thought it would take two weeks!" he said. Instead, he spent more than a year at Mun San Yi.

Levie acted as legal adviser during the negotiations for an armistice between the United States and North Korea (South Korea has never signed the agreement). However, because of his legal knowledge and writing skills, Levie became the author of the Korean armistice agreement. The only item on which the two sides reached no accord was the release of South Korean prisoners of war. As Levie explains, North Korea refused to release them; most South Korean prisoners were "drafted" into the North Korean army.

The North Korean government also refused to allow U.S. journalists to enter the site where the agreement was to be signed. The U.S. military declared, "We won't come to the table without our journalists," so negotiations were moved to Panmunjom. It was there, in 1953, that the armistice written by Levie was signed into practice. Forty-seven years later, that agreement still governs U.S.-North Korean relations.

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Military History Army Korean War