DOUBTS ABOUT A KOREAN ‘MASSACRE’

 
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[KWE Note: pages 48-50 are missing from this special report. If any of our readers have a copy of it, please send it to lynnita@koreanwar-educator.org.]

U.S. News & World Report – Special Report – May 22, 2000
By Joseph L. Galloway

On Sept. 29, 1999, the Associated Press published a lengthy story about a dozen American veterans who said they had either witnessed or participated in a massacre of South Korean refugees in the very early days of the Korean War. The AP report indicated that the shooting, which may have killed more than 200 South Korean refugees near the hamlet of No Gun Ri, came on direct orders from U.S. Army commanders.

That would make the incident the second-largest reported killing of civilians by U.S. forces in the 20th century, after the slaughter of some 500 Vietnamese in the village of My Lai in 1968.

The allegations of a massacre at No Gun Ri were nothing new: Families of the alleged victims—and even some Koreans who claimed to have survived the shooting—had been accusing the American military of covering up a massacre there for years. And there is little doubt that something terrible did happen there—in the confusion of war, some refugees were shot by American soldiers.

What was new in the Associated Press story was the statement by the American soldiers and officers. Before the AP account, no American at No Gun Ri had ever spoken publicly about killing large numbers of refugees, seeing any of his colleagues do so, or receiving orders from higher-ups to kill innocent noncombatants. A review by U.S. News, however, raises substantial doubts about the accuracy of the new accounts. A dozen veterans were cited by the AP in its account, none of whom were quoted. But military records and sources provide new evidence that three of the men quoted may not have been at No Gun Ri at the time of the alleged massacre. Five others, re-interviewed by U.S. News, do not support the thesis of the AP story. Of those, three said the statements they gave the wire service were misconstrued or taken out of context. A fourth veteran said there was some brief firing, possibly by a machine gun, and that there was not a large number of people in the culvert. The fifth vet said he fired his machine gun into the tunnel full of refugees but that no one ordered him to do so.

"These guys were inconsistent when we talked to them at the time," says Charles Hanley, one of the reporters on the AP team that conducted the investigation of No Gun Ri. "They were all over the map…but we have approaching 50 sources who confirm that a large number of civilians were killed by American forces at No Gun Ri." In a statement released last week after a Website for veterans named Stripes.com posted a story questioning the AP’s reporting on No Gun Ri, the wire service issued a statement saying that "we continue to report developments in this story as vigorously as the original accounts."

When the AP broke it, the No Gun Ri story generated enormous attention. Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered the Army to investigate to "determine the full scope of the facts surrounding press reports of civilian deaths" at No Gun Ri. The Army’s inspector general launched an exhaustive investigation, which is still underway. And last month, the team of Associated Press reporters who broke the No Gun Ri story was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, journalism’s highest honor.

What catapulted the No Gun Ri story into the journalistic stratosphere, however, was not the AP story or the accolades it received but the follow-up accounts by other news organizations. Many of these stories failed to reflect the ambiguities in the AP story. Assertions, in some of the follow-ups, took on the air of hard fact; the narrative line became more dramatic.

The principal source for many of these stories was Edward Daily. In the AP story, he was quoted as saying: "On summer nights when the breeze is blowing, I can still hear their cries, the little kids screaming." He added: "The command looked at it as getting rid of the problem in the easiest way. That was to shoot them in a group. Today," Daily concluded, "we all share a guilt feeling, something that remains with everyone."

Daily told the reporters following up on the AP account that he was a machine gunner with H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950, the day of the alleged massacre. Daily said he fired his .30-caliber machine gun at refugees huddled beneath an isolated railway trestle near No Gun Ri, possibly killing hundreds. In subsequent news accounts, Daily cast himself as a central figure at No Gun Ri. NBC’s Dateline flew Daily to Korea to visit the No Gun Ri site. Daily told Tom Brokaw about receiving the order to fire on the refugees under the railroad trestle. "Just shoot them all," Daily quoted the order. Brokaw: "You heard that order?" Daily: "Yes, sir." Brokaw: "Kill them all?" Daily: "Yes, sir." In February, the Washington Post Magazine put Daily’s picture on the cover and said he "was in charge of the lone machine-gun post" on one side of the railroad culvert. The Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News all published stories citing Daily’s account of No Gun Ri.


Christmas Dinner

But Army personnel records show that Daily was not at No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950; nor was he a machine gunner, as he claimed. The records, obtained by U.S. News, show that Daily was a mechanic with the Army’s 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group from March 18, 1949, to March 16, 1951. On July 26, 1950, the Army records show, Daily and his unit were just arriving in Korea, at a little fishing village called Pohang, more than 80 miles away from No Gun Ri. Daily did serve a brief stint—54 days—in H Company, 2nd Battalion. But records show that that began on March 16, 1951—his last day with the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group—more than eight months after the alleged massacre at No Gun Ri.

"To the best of my recollection, I served my whole time in H Company, 2nd Battalion, in Japan and Korea." Daily told U.S. News, when asked about the apparent contradiction. But the roster for the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group’s formal Christmas dinner in 1949 lists Edward Daily among the unit’s 300 members at the time. Asked again about his assertion that he spent his entire tour of dtuy in Korea with the 2nd Battalion’s H company, Daily said, "My memory is that I was there at No Gun Ri and did what I said I did. But you know, I have been sick for years, I have been in therapy in the Veterans Administration. It was my nightmares from Korea that cost me my job. I take three strong pills for mental illness."

Documentary information is not infallible, and certainly not in times of war. But the apparent discrepancy in Daily’s case is such that even the AP reporters who worked on the No Gun Ri story now harbor some doubt about Daily’s story. "I have a gut feeling that there is something wrong,: said Hanley, who interviewed Daily at length, "that he phonied up somewhere. But I’ve got to believe he was at No Gun Ri." Because of the "density of the detail" Daily provided about the shooting and the screaming of the refugees as they clawed for cover, Hanley explained, he finds it "impossible to believe" that Daily fabricated his account of No Gun Ri. "The man," Hanley says, "has a great memory." The statements Daily has made to reporters about the alleged massacre are an important part of the investigation being conducted by the Army inspector general. Investigators want to know whether Daily fabricated part of all of his account."

That there is confusion about what happened at No Gun Ri is understandable. The Korean peninsula was in chaos at the time. Tens of thousands of South Koreans were fleeing advancing North Korean forces. North Korean infiltrators had been discovered among the refugees. American forces, as a result, kept their weapons trained on the streams of refugees, and some were shot. Adding to the tension was the fact that the American units—and particularly the 7th Cavalry, the storied regiment of George Custer and Little Big-horn—were largely untested. Many of the troops were no more than frightened teenagers with no combat experience, led by too few battle-tested officers and sergeants. All the elements of tragedy, in other words, were at hand.

But how many refugees were killed at No Gun Ri? And did any American officer or sergeant issue an order to fire on unarmed women, children, and elderly? Norman Tinkler, the 2nd Battalion machine-gunner who told the AP that his unit "annihilated" the refugees at No Gun Ri, stands by his story. Contacted by U.S. News, Tinkler said he fired a single 250-round belt from his .30-caliber gun into the tunnels sheltering the refugees, but he has no idea how many were hit. The firing, Tinkler said, lasted no more than 30 seconds. Tinkler emphasized that he never received an order telling him to fire. "Refugees came through our positions the day before and pulled pins and threw three hand grenades at our guys. I wasn’t going to let them get near me," Tinkler told U.S. News. ". . . I was located on the right side of the railroad tracks facing the bridge, between a quarter and a half mile away. And yes, I fired at them. Nobody gave me orders. Nobody was there to give me any orders."


Morning Report

Of the dozen veterans cited by the AP as witnesses of or participants in the massacre, only one, Cpl. Eugene Hesselman, is quoted as having received orders to fire. Several unnamed veterans whose accounts were paraphrased in the AP account said that Capt. Melbourne Chandler spoke with superior officers by radio, then instructed machine gunners from H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, to set up on either side of the railway culvert, where the refugees had sought shelter, and open fire. "Chandler said, ‘The hell with all those people. Let’s get rid of all of them,’" Corporal Hesselman told the AP. Chandler is dead. But Army records suggest that Hesselman, like Daily, may not have been at No Gun Ri on the day in question. The daily "morning report" from H Company, 2nd Battalion, obtained from the Army’s Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, shows that Hesselman was transferred from No Gun Ri on July 26. The July 27 morning report, typically filed at 8 a.m. each day, places Hesselman at the 15th Medical Clearing Battalion, some 25 miles away from No Gun Ri. The morning report is considered the most accurate record of where and when a soldier served. The H Company morning report for July 27, 1950, states that Hesselman was transferred on July 26 after sustaining an unspecified wound during a small-weapons skirmish with North Korean forces.

Hesselman told the AP he was offered a medical evacuation after being wounded in the hand but decided to remain on the front lines. Army officials who reviewed the July 27 morning report told U.S. News that Hesselman almost certainly had been removed from No Gun Ri before noon on the date of the alleged massacre. Army units in Korea seldom traveled the unlit, refugee-choked roads at night, these officials say. Hesselman, the Army officials say, was therefore either en route to the 15th Medical Clearing Battalion or already there at the time the alleged massacre at No Gun Ri occurred. Hesselman failed to respond to repeated telephone inquiries or to a detailed letter sent to his home seeking comment on his account to the AP.

Another veteran cited by the AP as having witnessed the alleged events at No Gun ri may also have been somewhere else at the time. Rifleman Delos Flint told the AP he piled into one of the two tunnels in the railroad culvert filled with refugees after being strafed by U.S. Air Force jets. In the tunnel, Flint told the AP, "somebody, maybe our guys, was shooting in at us." According to the 7th Cavalry’s war diary, reviewed by U.S. News, Flint was transferred on July 25 from No Gun Ri, more than a full day before the alleged massacre. War diaries were updated sometimes days after events, typically at the regiment level, and can be inaccurate. Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the 7th Cavalry war diary and his statement to the AP, Flint told U.S. News, "My memory is not so good." The Army inspector general is also examining the accounts Hesselman and Flint provided to reporters, officials with knowledge of the inquiry say.


"No rumor, no scuttlebutt"

Other veterans cited in the AP account say some of their statements were misused. Herman Patterson, a rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was quoted in the AP account as saying, "It was just wholesale slaughter." Interviewed by U.S. News, an angry Patterson denies that’s what he said. "I told AP that when we were knocked back to the Naktong River a few days later, it was damn near a massacre—of us," Patterson said. "Their story, when it came out, quoted me as saying that No Gun Ri was a massacre, and that wasn’t what I said at all."

James Kerns was also assigned to H Company, 2nd Battalion, at No Gun Ri and was cited in the AP account. The AP quoted Kerns, a sergeant who was manning a machine gun, as saying he fired over the heads of the refugees. "I would not fire into a bunch of women," he told the AP. Interviewed by U.S. News, Kerns confirmed that account but sharply disputed the number of refugees in the tunnel. "There weren’t over 125 in there," he said. "You couldn’t get more to fit in there with all their A-frames and baggage and carts."

Col. Robert Carroll, then a 25-year-old first lieutenant, was described in the AP account as having encountered 7th Cavalry riflemen firing on refugees near the railroad culvert and ordering them to stop. A reconnaissance officer assigned to 2nd Battalion’s H Company and its machine gunners, Carroll says emphatically that he told the AP there was no order telling the machine gunners to open fire on the refugees and that none did. "No one ever mentioned anything like this," Carroll told U.S. News. "There was no rumor, no scuttlebutt, no nothing. Not then or later—not until 50 years later." Hanley, the AP reporter, said his team accurately reflected the views of the veterans with whom they spoke.

In re-examining the events surrounding the actions of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at No Gun Ri, U.S. News reviewed previously unavailable Pentagon records and personnel dossiers, gained independent access to testimony and other evidence provided to the Army’s inspector general, and interviewed more than 23 of the 7th Cavalry veterans who were at No Gun Ri at the time of the alleged massacre.

In the many discrepancies surrounding the events at the time and in the many news accounts that have been published since, none are as striking as those arising from Edward Daily’s story. Daily’s motivation for placing himself in the center of the No Gun Ri controversy after the AP story ran is unclear. After two lengthy interviews with U.S. News, Daily refused to discuss the matter further and failed to respond to a telegram containing a detailed list of questions about his actions. Last week, Daily was being treated in a veterans hospital for an undisclosed medical condition and failed to appear for a previously scheduled interview with investigators from the Army inspector general’s office.

Daily has for some time been a figure of controversy among two veterans’ organizations, the 7th U.S. Cavalry Association and the 1st Cavalry Division Association. (This reporter first learned of the questions about Daily’s account of No Gun Ri. ……………… pages 48-50 missing
 

 

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