The Anguish of U.S. Veterans - No Gun-Ri

by Lynnita Sommer (Brown)
111 E. Houghton Street, Tuscola, IL 61953
Published October 16, 1999 in the Korea Herald.

 
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I am a resident of Illinois in the United States who has been conducting full-length taped interviews with American Korean War veterans since 1996. In the course of these interviews, I have seen the anguish in the faces of these men who fought so valiantly on behalf of the people of South Korea. War was very hard on these peace-loving men, and the memories of what they had to do in order to save South Korea from Communist aggression and keep alive themselves are painful ones, and ones that refuse to go away. I am very angry about the AP story. The following commentary is based on the memories of the American Korean War veterans I have interviewed:

In a recent AP story, the writers claim that 1st Cavalry riflemen broke the "law of war" when they killed civilians at Nogun-ri during the Korean War. I have interviewed some 250 Korean War veterans in 3-9 hour interview sessions, and I do not believe that an "expert" on war would make such a ridiculous statement. Every combat veteran knows that the only true "law" during war is to kill or be killed. During the Korean War, America’s finest men fought for survival in a brutal war that killed over 33,000 Americans, wounded 103,000 more, and still claims more than 8,000 missing veterans. These men did not dodge the draft or question their country’s need in 1950-53. Instead, they responded to the call and fought for the freedom of people they did not know in a far away country that was equally unknown to them.

The hard and true facts are that during that horrible war, civilians were callously used by the communist enemy as pawns in their plan to take over South Korea. Old men, women, and little children were armed with communication equipment and weapons and sent by the enemy into American defense perimeters to kill and maim. They strapped explosives to their bodies and deliberately detonated them after walking into areas where high concentrations of American troops were gathered. Civilians gave away allied positions, poisoned our troops, slit their throats in the dark of night, and tossed hand grenades into mess tents. North Korean soldiers and mercenaries (male and female) dressed themselves as civilians to infiltrate among the thousands of refugees fleeing North Korea. American troops had no way to discern who was or wasn’t North Korean unless an interpreter could tell them.

There was a reason why the refugees were fleeing. Communist North Koreans and Chinese were a vicious bunch. They destroyed everything in their path—hearth and humanity. They slaughtered pregnant women and unborn babies. They murdered old men, teen and pre-teen youth, and toddlers. They killed civilian missionaries and teachers. They drugged thousands of their own men with opiates and then sent them into battle without weapons, determined to win the war by sheer numbers, if not expertise. This vicious enemy slaughtered American medics and the wounded they were tending, knowing full well who they were. They tied the hands of unarmed Americans behind their backs, cut off their genitals, and shoved them down their throats. They strung our young men to trees with communication wire, hanging them dead or alive. They set fire to truckloads of wounded and unarmed American servicemen. They beat, starved, and walked wounded Americans hundreds of hours on death marches to POW camps. In those camps, the communists generally under-fed their prisoners, did not provide sanitary facilities, would not allow the Red Cross to visit, and ordered weak and hungry prisoners to go on burial detail after their buddies had died a miserable death. The enemy did not care a fat fig about humane treatment of Americans, or the "law of war."

Not one single American who served in South Korea owes the people of that country an apology for anything. Appreciation, not censure, should be the order of the day from South Koreans, because the price of the freedom they enjoy today was paid with American blood, American tears, American money, American military expertise, and American sacrifice.

This is my message to any reporter or member of the general public who points the finger of blame at American troops for the loss of "innocent" civilians during the Korean War, or any war: Try experiencing the horror of seeing a buddy take a direct hit from incoming mortar fire. Watch his body disintegrate right before your very eyes. Then come back to the free country in which you live and talk to me about the "law of war." War is not pretty. War is not fair. In war, combatants die and so do innocent civilians caught in the line of fire.

The feats of bravery and endurance of America’s Korean War veterans were many and remarkable, but they have generally gone unrecognized for decades. What a shame that, on the eve of the 50th anniversary commemorative events for Korean War veterans, the news media has chosen to finally "reward" these good and faithful men with a story that has more holes shot through it than Seoul had after the Inchon invasion. The story was a gross injustice to Korean War veterans—and reflected the ignorance of authors who are clueless about the realities of war.

 

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