Evidence found in walls of trestle at Nogun-ri site

News-Gazette, Champaign, IL

January 10, 2001



SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korean investigators found American bullets still imbedded in walls of a railroad trestle at Nogun-ri, 50 years after U.S. troops killed an undetermined number of Korean refugees there in the early days of the Korean War. 

    The search last July turned up 59 bullets visually identified as American—and none of any other type—stuck in the concrete walls and a nearby culvert at Nogun-ri, according to two South Korean government documents obtained by The Associated Press. 

    While the papers did not mention caliber, U.S. and South Korean sources, speaking anonymously, said the Koreans’ analysis of 30 sample bullets identified them as .30-caliber rounds of the type used by U.S. forces at that time. 

    In Washington, Army spokesman Maj. Tom Collins confirmed the bullet findings as described by the Koreans, but would not comment on what they meant for the Army’s overall investigation.  "It will be addressed fully in the report," Collins said. 

    The findings of investigations by both governments are expected this week, perhaps Thursday. 

    Four sources close to the South Korean probe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators also recovered 121 cartridges, 108 bullets and 234 pieces of shrapnel in hills around the trestle.  These also were primarily of U.S. origin, except for a few Soviet-type bullets and casings—types used by the North Korean army. 

    Pentagon and South Korean experts agreed it could not be determined who fired the bullets and when.  There was fighting in the area in September 1950, two months after the killings at Nogun-ri, when the Northern invaders were in retreat. 

    In a draft copy of a proposed "statement of mutual understanding" summarizing the findings of the two investigations, the U.S. side said," "It is possible that the bullets and bullet marks were related to what happened in the last week of July 1950, but it is impossible to determine who fired the bullets and when, and what direction the bullets came from."  The statement was obtained by the AP in December. 

    According to the Korean sources, American negotiators wanted to refer to "U.S. and Soviet bullets in and around the trestle," but Korean officials objected to any phrasing that blurred the key fact that only U.S. bullets were in the walls. 

    Reversing previous denials of U.S. involvement, Pentagon officials conceded last month that troops of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, did kill "some number" of Korean refugees at Nogun-ri in late July 1950. 

    The Pentagon and South Korean government launched their parallel inquiries after the AP described the killings in a story that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. 

    Former U.S. soldiers told the AP that 100, 300 or simply "hundreds" were killed at Nogun-ri.  Korean survivors, who are asking nearly $300 million in compensation, say 400 died, including 100 killed by strafing U.S. planes, in the period of July 26-28, 1950. 

    Korean survivors described refugees, some wounded, seeking cover from the air attacks under the 80-foot-long twin-tunnel underpass, only to come under fire later from ground forces. 

    The U.S. troops, newly arrived in the war zone and taking part in a chaotic pullback to the south, had been warned by commanders that refugee groups included North Korean guerillas in disguise.  South Korean survivors deny there were any infiltrators at Nogun-ri, and none were reported afterward by the U.S. Army. 

    In interviews with the AP, some former U.S. soldiers said they believed they were fired on from the trestle, while others said they were unaware of any hostile fire there or elsewhere at Nogun-ri. 

    Some company morning reports refer to several incidents of small-arms fire in the three-day period, including one July 26 that said "exchanged small arms fire with enemy near Nogun-ri."  U.S. intelligence reports say U.S. and North Korean forces were four miles apart on July 26, and patrolling beyond their lines.  North Korean troops moved in after the U.S. troops withdraw on July 29, a declassified U.S. intelligence report said. 

    In the fluid battle situation, casualty reports also were confusing and initially imprecise, incorporating figures from an area of several square miles around the hamlet. 

    Overall, the 7th Cavalry Regiment’s 1st and 2nd battalions and headquarters units had five killed and about 25 wounded from July 26-28, according to U.S. military records reviewed by the AP.  Unit war diaries and witnesses say at least three deaths were caused by "friendly fire"—inexperienced, nervous U.S. troops mistakenly shooting each other.  Some wounds apparently were self-inflicted. 

    Former U.S. soldiers interviewed by the AP said the troops fired on the refugees with .30-caliber machine guns.  Several U.S.-made .50-caliber bullets found in the area could have come from machine guns on the ground or aerial staffing. 

    The basic round was the "thirty ought-six."