The two men are the first link to a higher command level

Supporting charges of a civilian massacre.


LOS ANGELES (AP) – Two ex-GIs who handled radio and message traffic told Pentagon investigators that American troops had orders from higher headquarters to fire on civilian refugees at Nogun-ri in the early days of the Korean War. 

    The sworn statements by Lawrence Levine and James Crume, who were assigned to the headquarters of 2nd battalion, 7th Cavalry regiment, are the first from a higher command level to publicly support recollections of some other veterans that they were ordered to shoot civilians for fear North Korean infiltrators were among them. 

    Although official Army documents don’t mention infiltrators at Nogun-ri, both men say they believed in July 1950—and today—that disguised enemy soldiers were a serious threat to the U.S. troops, then taking part in a chaotic southward retreat. 

    "Our understanding was, and it was an understanding, not absolute fact, that amongst these people there were North Korean spies and soldiers, who were reporting our positions," said Levine, 72, of Encino, California. 

    According to former U.S. soldiers and Korean survivors, a large number of South Korean civilians were killed at a railroad bridge near the Nogun-ri hamlet.  The killings are the subject of yearlong investigations by the U.S. Army and the Seoul government.  Findings in both inquiries are expected next month. 

    In recent interviews, Crume and Levine told The Associated Press that the order to fire on civilians came down the chain of command from division or higher headquarters and was passed on to the battalion’s line companies.  The two foxhole buddies said they gave a similar account to Army investigators last spring. 

    "I’m sure the battalion commander and the S3 (operations officer) discussed it… even before they put the order out to stop the refugees," said Crume, 73, of Kennewick, Wash.  "All I know is the order was given—‘you’re not going through,’ and the order was given to the heavy weapons company, and that was it." 

    The U.S. and Korean investigations were prompted by an AP report which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.  It quoted U.S. veterans as estimating 100, 200 or simply hundreds died.  Korean relatives, who filed suit seeking compensation for the deaths, say 300 were killed under the railroad bridge and 100 in a prior strafing attack by U.S. planes. 

    AP also found wartime documents showing at least three high-level Army headquarters and an Air Force command ordered troops to treat as hostile any civilians approaching U.S. positions.  On July 24, 1950, two days before Nogun-ri, 1st Cavalry division units were instructed:  ‘No refugees to cross the front line.  Fire everyone trying to cross lines.  Use discretion in case of women and children." 

    On July 26, 1950, the day of the bridge incident at Nogun-ri, Maj. Gen. Hobart Gay, commander of the 1st Cavalry division, told reporters that aerial reconnaissance had reported "heavy refugee movements" near the U.S. battle sector.  Gay said he was certain most of the refugees were "North Korean guerrillas," according to a story by AP reporter Don Whitehead.