By Dave Hughes, October 1, 1999



Since this allegation of a downright, ordered, massacre by US troops of Korean civilians in the earliest days of the Korean War in July, 1950, is such a smear against the US Army who fought that war, I have gone to great extent to set that record straight.  Below is a LONG (400+ lines) verbatim extract of an officer’s involvement and recollection of that period, from his book on the 7th Cavalry. 

    Anyone here may forward this to anyone who cares.  Note the REPEATED references to the problems with refugees, the North Korean cynical use of them, and the chaotic combat conditions and operations in the FIRST SEVEN DAYS of the 7th Cav’s entry into that war. 

    Extracts of Pages 244-247 from ‘Of Garry Owen in Glory’—the History of the 7th United States Cavalry Regiment—which served in the Korean War from July 22nd, 1950 to December 20th, 1951, by Lt. Col. Melbourne Chandler, who served in the Regiment as a Captain and Major during all the episodes detailed below.  These actions, highlight the extreme problems that the 7th Cav had with tens of thousands of refugees who were fleeing before the North Korean Army, which Army cynically infiltrated the refugees columns with armed soldiers who fired on US troops, and pushed civilians into the line of fire to break through to the American rear, as well as infiltrating units on the refugee choked roads into the US rear, which led the CG, 1st Cav Division to order that NO ONE be allowed to pass through US military lines. 

    And of course the Korean civilian and the American Army soldiers could not communicate with each other over the language barrier.  Together with the state of training and poor equipment of the US troops (note the arrival of the very first 3.5 inch rocket launcher, which were required before US troops could defeat the T-54 tanks of the North Koreans) hastily thrown into the battle from garrison duty in Japan against the highly trained, well equipped, invading North Korean force, gives the reader the background and context within which the alleged ‘massacre’ of Korean civilians by American soldiers was supposed to have taken place. 

    Nowhere in this eyewitness account of all the action by the 2d Battalion, 7th Cavalry, does Chandler, who was a company commander right there, report any incident at Nogun-ri where the AP report, 50 years later portrays 300 Koreans slaughtered without cause, by American soldiers, under orders to kill them. 


"At 1730 hours, July 22nd, the convoy anchored in the vicinity of the make-shift harbor facilities of Pohangdong and debarking began as planned.  By 2230 all troops had debarked and moved to a bivouac area four to six miles out of the town.  Even though many of the men were happy to be back on solid ground, they were curious and apprehensive as to what the future held.  As the men haphazardly dug in for the night, the regimental commander and S-3 left for a conference with General Allen.  The 1st Battalion, plus one platoon of the Heavy Mortar Company and one Medical Platoon relieved the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, and was given the mission of defending Pohangdong from the north.  On the following day the regiment made plans to move from the site of the original bivouac near Pohangdong to the Taegu-Kumchon sector, a distance of 100 miles where the division was assembling.  The move was made by truck and rail in three serials, as follows:  rail-transported troops, under the command of Lt. Col. Herbert B. Heyer, included 20 officers, and 71 enlisted men from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, four officers and 25 enlisted men from Medical Company, two officers and 50 enlisted men from Service Company, plus the entire 2nd Battalion.  While plans called for departure from Pohangdong around 1300, the actual move did not begin until 1830 due to the lack of rail transportation. 

    No such delay was encountered by the truck-transported troops, who began their departure with the Regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon in the lead at 1030 hours.  Colonel Cecil B. Nist and his S-2 and S-3 staff officers accompanied this group.  By 1100 hours all remaining troops who did not go by rail moved out in the second serial under the command of Major Lucian Coft, regimental S-4.*

    During the early morning, hours prior to the move, a messenger from one of the outposts came into the bivouac area and requested an interpreter.  He had presented the regiment with a problem which was to be repeated many times during the 7th Cavalry’s operations in Korea.  He had 11 Korean civilians near his outpost who apparently had not been informed of the danger of remaining in the vicinity of troops after nightfall and could not communicate with them. 

    The order of formation for the Division in the Kumchon area—the destination—was given as follows:  5th Cavalry, 8th Cavalry, Division Artillery, and the 7th Cavalry less the 1st Battalion. 

    After the 1st Battalion arrived at its sector on the front lines in the Kumchon-Pohangdong area, and had been assigned its mission of holding a first or second defensive position as the situation might arise, another problem which was to be repeated many times confronted the battalion.  Refugees and friendly Korean troops entered our defensive positions in their march rearward and were fired upon by our own troops because they were unable to establish their identity.  Minor enemy skirmishes developed, however, artillery and naval fire support in this sector played the major role. 

    On July 24th, the 1st Battalion’s command post moved forward to Changsa-dong, north of Pohangdong.  The enemy attacked during the early morning hours, but were quickly repelled.  During the greater part of the day the enemy was steadily hammered by 4.2-inch and 81mm mortar fire, field artillery, and naval gunfire, plus air strikes by the Fifth Air Force.  The enemy was forced to retreat for a distance of approximately 2,000 yards.  Yongdok was leveled and left ablaze by continuous naval gun fire from warships anchored in the harbor east of the town. 

    The main serial from Pohangdong arrived at 0005 hours on the 24th and made contact with the command group which had preceded it.  The regimental command post was established approximately two and a half miles in rear of the front line occupied by the 5th and 8th Cavalry.  Prior to the arrival of the 2nd Battalion, at 1420 hours, the regimental commander was directed to form two provisional rifle companies from service and headquarters personnel due to a serious breakthrough on the right flank.  Arrival of the train at 1420 hours with the 2nd Battalion eliminated the requirement for the two provisional rifle companies and the 2nd Battalion was alerted for combat within 20 minutes after arrival. 

    The 2nd Battalion then went into position in the immediate vicinity of the regimental command post where it remained for the remainder of the night.  During the night, numerous enemy groups attempted to infiltrate their positions.  This caused continuous firing throughout the night by the inexperienced troops in their first night in combat.  During one engagement with a small enemy force in the Company E area, 2nd Lieutenant Alan F. Plummer was killed and Private Willie C. Sanderlin wounded.  Thus, the regiment suffered its first losses in the Korean War. 

    At 0005 hours on July 25th, the 1st Battalion reported that a group of ROK soldiers had attempted to bring a group of Korean civilians through a road block in the Company A area.  When challenged to halt, the Koreans dispersed and fled in panic.  Not knowing who they were, our troops fired a volley of small arms and machine-gun fire into the scattered group.  2nd Lieutenant Francis J. Maloney, Jr. of Company D, with a small group of his men, formed a patrol and went forward to contact the scattered Koreans who were still believed to be enemy.  Lt. Maloney dispersed his men, warning them not to fire until a verbal command was given by him, and then moved forward alone to make contact.  [Footnote:  The first United Nations Command was born on July 24th, the day General Douglas MacArthur assumed command of all UN Forces in Korea in response to the resolution passed on July 7th by the United Nations Security Council.]  Upon discovering that the Koreans were friendly, the ROK troops and civilians were easily collected, brought through our lines, and held until daylight for release. 

    The 1st Battalion was relieved in place by the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Division at 2000 hours, and departed by motor convoy at 2135 hours for Pohangdong, where rail transportation was waiting to take them to the Yongdong sector to join the remainder of the regiment. 

    Back in the regimental command post, a meeting of unit commanders was held to review the situation, and the 2nd Battalion was alerted to pull in their outposts in preparation for a move to the vicinity of Eido.  During the morning of the 25th, Mr. Jamieson, Australian delegate to the UN Commission, and Colonel Nayar, Indian delegate to the UN Commission, visited the regimental command post for an orientation as to the location of the front lines. 

    Late on the 25th, the first of a series of withdrawals began.  These actions, difficult to execute even with trained troops, were particularly costly to the inexperienced, undermanned regiment.  The first of these withdrawals began under the direction of Captain Charles E. Perez, commanding officer of the Service Company, when the regimental service and supply trains were moved farther to the rear.  The 2nd Battalion then moved out toward the front lines at 1850, followed by reorganized groups from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, to relieve the pressure on the hard-pressed 8th Cavalry Regiment’s positions.  An estimated 2,000 enemy troops were directly in front of these positions with tanks, artillery, mortars and automatic weapons.  Enemy patrols continued to harass the flanks and rear, and enemy troops, posing as refugees, became a considerable threat and caused numerous casualties. 

    Regimental supply personnel had not been idle during this period.  Major Croft reported that 15 of the vital 3.2-inch rocket launchers had been issued to the regiment.  Captain Perez had organized his kitchen trucks about 300 yards to the rear and prepared a welcomed hot meal for the troops—the first since their arrival in Korea. 

    Of a more somber nature was the necessary removal on this day of all identifying markings on ambulances and other medical vehicles because enemy fire had been intentionally directed against such vehicles evacuating wounded from the front. 

    The regimental trains with all other regimental vehicles were again withdrawn about 4 ½ miles to the rear at 2000 hours, as all roads became seriously congested with disorganized groups of vehicles from the 24th Division, combined with masses of refugees and ROK troops. 

    By midnight of July 25-26, the regimental command post had been located at a forward position near Eido, and communication lines established between the Heavy Mortar Company and the forward units of the regiment.  An early morning rush of activity began with a telephone call ordering all regimental S-3s to the Division headquarters to receive orders for a general withdrawal.  At 0120, the 2nd Battalion reported that the road was clogged with refugees and that an enemy tank had passed their command post going toward the rear area.  Later a messenger from Heavy Mortar Company reported that refugees, approximately 200 yards from their road entrance, had been stopped and ordered into the adjacent fields to clear the way for vehicular traffic. 

    A call from Major William O. Witherspoon, the regimental S-3 then at Division headquarters, ordered the immediate alert of all personnel for evacuation of their respective positions, as a serious break-through had occurred in the sector to the right of the Division.  All elements of the regiment were to begin an immediate withdrawal with the exception of the 2nd Battalion, which was under attack. 

    During the withdrawal which followed, the 2nd Battalion was under continuous attack and the unit became scattered, out of communication with each other, many platoons did not receive the order to withdraw, and general chaos and confusion resulted as enemy tanks and "refugees" began firing wildly from the road leading to the rear.  The road soon became choked with men—elements of the 8th Cavalry, the 24th Division, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, "refugees," and enemy troops—and vehicles, both our own and those of the enemy. 

    The Company H command post was located along the railroad which ran parallel to the troop-filled road.  In an effort to separate the troops of the 2nd Battalion from the surging mass in the road, Captain Melbourne C. Chandler, commander of Company H, took his small company headquarters group to the road in an attempt to separate the friendly troops away from the column on the road and on to the railroad.  After collecting approximately 300 troops of the 2nd Battalion, he led them down the railroad toward the position last occupied by the regimental command post.  There was no communication by radio with any units at this time, and the location of other friendly units was unknown.  After traveling approximately seven miles with this disorganized group, dodging enemy tank fire, and avoiding contact with the human mass on the road, the group was met by Major William O. Witherspoon who directed them into an assembly area near the new location of the regimental command post.  The exhausted men fell to the ground immediately; however, rest was short-lived, as it was imperative that units be regrouped in order to form some semblance of a defensive position, and to establish communications. 

    Much equipment and many weapons were lost during this chaotic withdrawal, and the following morning small groups went forward to recover as much as possible which was strewn along the road and railroad. 

    The strenuous climb over mountainous terrain during the withdrawal necessitated the evacuation of five men.  Additionally, the regiment suffered one killed, six wounded, and 119 missing. 

    By 0800 hours on the 26th, units of the 2nd Battalion moved astride the road into defensive positions. 

    Troops of the 1st Battalion arrived at 1200 hours by train just south of the Hwang-gang rail station to rejoin the regiment. 

    The 2nd Battalion, which was to relieve the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, by extending the line to the left, reported that unit in contact with the enemy, and a reconnaissance force was immediately organized and dispatched.  Meanwhile, all bridges and trestles forward of the position were destroyed, and mortar fire and patrols engaged enemy guerrilla forces in the nearby villages. 

    The morning of July 27th found the 5th Cavalry Regiment located to the left and rear, and the 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, on the right of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, with the 77th Field Artillery in support.  Division reported that there were no friendly troops to the southwest of the regiment’s position.  The lack of sufficient supporting artillery and the 270’ perimeter being covered by artillery fire, required each piece in the batteries to be laid separately in order to deliver immediate fire on call.  When a volume of fire was required it was necessary to shift the trails of the other pieces in the battery. 

    Press representatives Tom Lambert of the Associated Press, Davis Warner of the Daily Telegraph and London Herald in Melbourne, Stanley Massey, of the Consolidated Press in Sidney, Mr. Christopher Buckley of the London Daily Telegraph, Alan Humphrey of the London Daily Mail, Ian Morrison of the London Times, and Bill Hudons of the Australian Associated Press, visited the regimental command post during the day. 

    The day was spent in consolidating positions, extensive patrol activities, and skirmishes with small, scattered enemy groups and patrols.  The regiment lost two killed and four wounded during the day’s activities. 

    With the 2nd Battalion spread to the right and the 1st Battalion to the left, activities for the 28th were marked by efforts to establish rapid communication and liaison with the supporting artillery.  By 0615, the snarled communication system had been improved and a message from the 1st Battalion confirmed enemy flanking movements as well as intensified attacks against the front lines which threatened both 1st and 2nd Battalion sectors.  Messages at this time also revealed that the 1st and 2nd Battalions were in contact with each other, but that the 2nd Battalion’s right flank had been penetrated by a unknown number of enemy troops.  Lt. Col. Pete D. Clainos, commanding the 1st Battalion, reported that an attempted penetration of the right and left flanks of this battalion had been turned back momentarily.  The enemy was following typical pattern of attack by forcing mobs of civilians ahead of their troops into the line of fire. 

    The regiment was informed of a potential means of emergency withdrawal by Colonel Rosenberg, regimental commander, 5th Cavalry, who visited the command post at 0730 to discuss the situation on the right flank.  He had utilized bulldozers during the night to prepare a new route of withdrawal. 

    At 0900 General Frank Allen and his aide, followed by Lt. Col. J.H. Michaelis, commanding officer, 27th Infantry Regiment, arrived at the regimental command post.  General Allen presented the following current plan:  the 8th Cavalry was to move up, the 7th Cavalry to hold the position while the 2nd Battalion attacked to close the gap between the 27th Infantry and the 7th Cavalry Regiments.  The 8th Cavalry was to locate one battalion on the forward ridge and one battalion behind the 27th Infantry to occupy the critical ground on their left flank, while plans were being made to withdraw the 27th Infantry to the rear. 

    At 0330 hours on July 29th, the 2nd Battalion received orders to withdraw in the following order—Companies F, Headquarters, H, G, and E.  The withdrawal was made down a valley of terraced rice paddies filled with water.  Enemy troops occupied the ridges on each side of the valley and were racing parallel to the withdrawing column in an attempt to cut them off.  A heavy volume of small arms fire poured in on the column from either side from the closely pursuing enemy while artillery and tank fire further hampered movements.  The blackness of night was continuously shattered by red, white, and green signal flares fired over the heads of our troopers by the pursuing enemy. 

    By 0830 on the 29th, elements of the 1st and 2nd Battalions had passed the Hwang-gan railroad station and taken up new positions.  Extensive patrols to the front and flanks were initiated during the day while refugees streaming to the rear continued to cause the troopers considerable trouble." 


So went the FIRST SEVEN DAYS of the entry of the 7th US Cavalry into the Korean War.  I joined it some time after the events described above, and fought with it until the 7th Cav was pulled out of Korea back to Japan, December 1951.  And never once, in my year+ in Korea, did I ever hear, even rumors, of a ‘massacre’ at Nogun-ri, NOR in the last five years meeting and communicating with 950 veterans of the 7th Cav, did I, or anyone I knew, hear of such an incident.  David Hughes, Col USA (Ret)