BOTH SIDES DESCRIBE ANGUISH, HORROR

OF KOREAN WAR

By Erika Hayasaki

News-Gazette, Champaign, IL

October 03, 1999

 

 

LOCAL EX-SOLDIERS PROVIDE FEEILNGS, REACTIONS TO STORY OF 1950 WARTIME MASSACRE

 

Alvi Norris of Danville was 20 years old when he arrived in Korea in 1950 as a U.S. soldier, prepared to fight communism."We knew back then that communism was the enemy of the time, which it still is," he said."I went to Korea with the thoughts in my mind that I was doing a duty for my country."

†† It was a rough place, said Norris, who served in the 25th Infantry Division.North Korean soldiers had concealed themselves among South Korean civilians, and refugees were everywhere, he said.

††† When he heard news reports last week that hundreds of South Korean civilians had been murdered by U.S. soldiers in July 1950 at Nogun-ri, he said it may have been possible.But he never saw it happen."I never saw anybody do what these people are claiming was done," he said."Anything could have happened.Look, youíre fighting for your life over there."

††† Norris and other Korean War veterans said they are angry that such damaging reports are being publicized nearly 50 years later."American soldiers just donít go around killing everybody.Thatís never happened.The average American soldier has a conscience," Norris said.

††† Marylon Palmer of Danville, who served in the 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War, said he doesnít think South Koreans deserve an apology."As far as giving them money and apology for what was done over there, I donít think they deserve that," Palmer said."Look at all the American lives lost saving that country, and then they want to come and ask us for an apology?"

††† The media are trying to exploit the situation, Palmer said."I donít understand why itís coming out like this, and why the media is putting it out, I donít know," he said."The same things happened during World War II.Even the Japanese want apologies because of the atom bomb."

††Robert A. Henderson, who served as first lieutenant in an 81mm mortar platoon in the 1st Marine Division, said he felt saddened by the news."We felt we were doing something very important.We were trying to stop communism from taking over the world," he said."But when I read these reports in the newspaper, I thought, "Oh, my God, those poor soldiers."

††† The soldiers, who were among the first troops sent to Korea, were occupation troops who had been stationed in Japan, not combat-trained troops, Henderson said.They were probably "frightened to death," he said."They were apparently inexperienced troops just fleeing for their lives trying to get away from the terrible invasion by North Koreans," Henderson said."Apparently, they just took a very general order as one to eliminate anyone that stood in their way."

††† North Korean communist armies were approaching the village U.S. troops occupied, during the fifth week of war, according to the AP report.Rumors were circulating that North Korean soldiers might be disguising themselves as South Korean refugees to infiltrate the U.S. lines, and the Americans feared an attack from the North Koreans.They followed an order issued by 1st Cavalry Division headquarters, "fire (on) everyone trying to cross the lines," the report stated."Iím sure for the soldiers that were there, it must be a terrible thing to live with.I canít imagine killing innocent civilians like that.Itís horrifying," Henderson said.

 

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SOME KOREAN-AMERICANS INTERVIEWED ARE ANGRY; OTHERS WANT TO MOVE ON

 

Kee-Su Park, 41, who came to the United States from South Korea 10 years ago, said he had heard many stories of atrocities U.S. soldiers committed against Korean civilians.

†† Such stories, like Thursdayís Associated Press report that said U.S. soldiers had massacred hundreds of South Korean civilians during the Korean War, are not new, he said as he ate kimchi soup at A-Ri-Rang restaurant on Wright Street, with a stack of past issues of The Korea Times lying next to him.

†† "When I was young, I heard about those kind of behaviors by soldiers," Park said."Killing of women and children, I heard about a lot of these things from my parents Ö killing by Americans or others."

††† U.S. Korean War veterans admitted at least 300 South Korean civilians were machine-gunned by U.S. soldiers in late July 1950 beneath a bridge at Nogun-ri, according to an AP report.

††† Most Koreans and Korean Americans interviewed by The News-Gazette said they felt sad about the past, but such incidents happened during the war Ė and society should move on."I care about it, but itís not like I am mad at Americans.I just feel sad.But I think it could happen in any war," said Daejoung Kim, a University of Illinois senior.

††† But others said they still feel animosity."Soldiers have got to behave.I am very angry about that kind of thing," Park said."I feel angry toward the Americans for killing innocent people," said Seunggil Choi, a second-year UI graduate student."I think they should apologize."Although killing is part of war, Kim said he also believes South Koreans deserve an apology."I think there should be some apology Ė an official apology to the families by the military," he said.

††† Jin-Ho Jang, president of the UI Graduate Korean Studies Association, said he hopes the news will not have a chilling effect on U.S. and Korean relations."It is hard to treat (this issue) from the position of students studying abroad," Jang said."Some members (of the Graduate Korean Studies Association) probably donít like to engage in this very sensitive political issue because they may not want to appear as human rights activists.They are just students."

††† Jang, who came to the U.S. from South Korea last August, said he was surprised the news was being publicized nearly 50 years after the war.But the facts were probably hidden, he said."The people who lived (in South Korea) sometimes raised the issue," Jang said."I think they were also oppressed to raise this issue openly.It was oppressed by even the Korean government in order to make the relationship (with) the U.S. better."

††† Kim said that since so much time has passed, he hopes there are no disputes between the U.S. and Korea."I think anything can happen in war, and we canít blame them for that."

 

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