I came across this interesting little story posted by Linda Sheffield in her “Habubrats” group online:
A few paragraphs from my father’s (Col. Richard “Butch” Sheffield) unpublished book.
North Korea, November 22, 1969, SR-71 number, 972
First SR to overfly North Korea and first to land in South Korea.
Some years later General Minter told me that this mission was requested by CINCPAC, Admiral McCain (father of the Senator McCain of Arizona). He had visited Kadena and was briefed on the SR and the missions we were flying over North Vietnam. He told General Minter that he was more worried about North Korea than he was about Vietnam.
(The SR had a generator failure and had to land)When we were trying to get the tower to open the field and turn up the landing lights so we could land the person in the tower was speaking in broken English. He said, “no can land, field is closed.” We told him we were an RF-4 with an engine out and had no were else to land. Once we were on the runway and our eyes became accustomed to the light we saw men in black pajamas sounding the aircraft and holding machine guns. Bob asked me, “Butch, are you sure we are in South Korea?”
After we had sat in the aircraft for a while with the one good engine in idle and the taxi light on we saw a military auto coming down the runway at a high rate of speed and barely under control. It pulled right up in front of us and a person jumped out (he was the Base Commander) (half dressed) and we could read his lips, he was saying, “what in the f— are you doing here?” Bob said back to him, once we had the wheels in chocks and the engine shut down, “what did you want me to do, ditch it?”
When we gave the abort code over HF radio, we first gave the code for Kunsan, South Korea. Soon we saw that we did not have enough fuel to make it to Kunsan and decided to go to Taegu. I had never heard of Taegu and didn’t know where it was located. Bob knew, he must have used it when flying the U-2. Taegu was so small and out of the way that they did not have an abort code. We gave the abort code for a base not on the list of emergency landing places over the HF. So neither the Kadena command post nor Taegu knew where we were going to land. In other words, Taegu had no idea who we were or where we came from. The picture of the SR taken at night with the glow of a fire truck behind it must have been what we looked like. It is hard to imagine what the SR looked like sitting on the runway at Taegu in the middle of the night.
When we went on a combat mission, we carried a sealed letter in our pocket. We were told the letters and who signed them changed from time to time and we never saw them. Some crewmembers speculated that CINCPAC, the Air Force Chief or even the President signed them. I do not know, but whoever signed the one I gave to the base Commander at Taegu sure got his attention. From the time he saw it until we left the next day, he could not do enough for us.