By John Donnelly, The Boston Globe

Kennebec Journal, October 1, 1999



WASHINGTON Ė After first brushing aside a report of a U.S. Army massacre of civilians in he Korean War, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen on Thursday called for a probe into whether American troops machine-gunned thousands of people over three days in 1950.

††† The probe, sparked by a lengthy Associated Press investigation that cited allegations of survivors and U.S. veterans, will include a review of the record and interviews with U.S. soldiers about the shootings near a hamlet called Nogun-ri.

††† Asked about the story in Jakarta, where he was traveling, Cohen said, "This has been examined on several occasions in the past and I am unaware that there is any information that would corroborate or support it."

††† Cohen said the government would look again at the issue if there were any substantive new information.Hours later, Washington officials made that determination.President Clinton officially asked for an investigation and told reporters that Cohen "wants to get to the bottom of this."Army Secretary Louis Caldera, in a separate news conference, said the AP story "clearly has raised new information that demanded that it be looked into."

††† The AP story included interviews with a dozen Army veterans and relatives of victims as well as declassified Army documents that showed US commanders, fearing North Koreaís forces had infiltrated civilian populations, ordered troops in late July 1950 to shoot South Korean refugees.A South Korea survivors group estimates that 300 people were herded under a railroad bridge and shot dead about 100 miles southeast of Seoul.

††† South Korea officials promised a full investigation Thursday.But Hebeom Kim, spokesman for the South Korean Embassy in Washington, cautioned it is "too early to determine whether the facts in the story are true."The United States fought on the side of South Korea in the North-South war.

††† In a letter to Caldera, Clinton said, "This review is important to the active and retired members of our armed forces, the confidence of the American people in the finest armed forces in the world, and our relationship with the people of the Republic of Korea."

††† Caldera said the probe will probably take a year or more.He said the Army Center for Military History searched this year for documents related to the alleged massacre and found nothing.Caldera, who took just five questions before walking off a Pentagon podium with reports shouting for more time with him, said Thursday the new review will go much further.

††† "Although it would not excuse the alleged acts, history records that the early weeks of the Korean conflict were very chaotic," Caldera said."U.S. soldiers, although they fought with great courage under very harsh conditions, were ill-trained and ill-equipped to fight because of the large reduction in resources available to the military for training and equipment following World War II."

††† Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, said other reports of U.S. troops killing Korean civilians surfaced during the war, "but it was so easily dismissed as Communist-inspired stories.So Iím not surprised that this other account of a massacre should take so long to emerge."

††† Isserman doubted there would be much public outcry over the report because itís "so far in the past and the Korean War has just disappeared for most Americans.But he wondered about the veterans who talked about their memories of the killings."These guys carried their experiences around for 50 years and no one wanted to hear it," he said.

††† One of the veterans, George Preece, 74, of Liberty, KY, though, told the Globe Thursday he hasnít been haunted by the episode.Preece, who served in the Army for 20 years, said U.S. troops were only returning fire from North Korean soldiers.Civilians, he said, were caught in the middle."What are you supposed to do," said Preece, then in charge of 29 soldiers at the site."Not shoot back?"We realized there were women and children in those culverts, but what were we going to do?"

††† Preece also expressed misgivings about the Army probe.†† "Too much time has passed," he said."People have forgotten.Most of the people involved were my friends, and many are dead by now.What happened back then couldnít be helped.It just couldnít be helped."