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“On summer nights when the breeze is blowing, I can still hear their cries, the little kids screaming.”

— Edward L. Daily
U.S. Army machine-gunner at No Gun Ri

The No Gun Ri Massacre

by Sang-Hun Choe
Charles J. Hanley
Martha Mendoza

Associated Press
September 29, 1999

It was a story no one wanted to hear: Early in the Korean War, villagers said, American soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge in the South Korean countryside.

When the families spoke out, seeking redress, they met only rejection and denial, from the U.S. military and their own government in Seoul. Now a dozen ex-GIs have spoken, too, and support their story with haunting memories from a “forgotten” war.

American veterans of the Korean War say that in late July 1950, in the conflict’s first desperate weeks, U.S. troops killed a large number of South Korean refugees, many of them women and children, trapped beneath a bridge at a hamlet called No Gun Ri.

In interviews with The Associated Press, ex-GIs speak of 100 or 200 or “hundreds” dead. The Koreans, whose claim for compensation was rejected last year, say 300 were killed at the bridge and 100 in a preceding air attack.

American soldiers, in their third day at the warfront, feared North Korean infiltrators among the fleeing South Korean peasants, veterans told the AP.

The ex-GIs described other refugee killings as well in the war’s first weeks, when U.S. commanders ordered their troops to shoot civilians, citizens of an allied nation, as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers, according to once-classified documents found by the AP in U.S. military archives.

Six veterans of the 1st Cavalry Division said they fired on the civilians at No Gun Ri, and six others said they witnessed the mass killing.

“We just annihilated them,” said ex-machine gunner Norman Tinkler of Glasco, Kansas.

After five decades, none gave a complete, detailed account. But the ex-GIs agreed on such elements as time and place, and on the preponderance of women, children and old men among the victims.

Some said they were fired on from among the refugees beneath the bridge. But others said they don’t remember hostile fire. One said they later found a few disguised North Korean soldiers among the dead. But others disputed this.

Some soldiers refused to shoot what one described as “civilians just trying to hide.”

The 30 Korean claimants — survivors and victims’ relatives — said what happened July 26-29, 1950, was an unprovoked, three-day carnage.

“The American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies,” said Chun Choon-ja, a 12-year-old girl at the time.

The story of No Gun Ri has remained undisclosed for a half-century.

The U.S. military has said repeatedly it found no basis for the allegations. On Wednesday, after the AP report was released, Pentagon spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We just have no information in historical files to lend any clarity to what might have happened in July 1950.”

The AP’s research also found no official Army account of the events.

Some elements of the No Gun Ri episode are unclear: What chain of officers gave open-fire orders? Did GIs see gunfire from the refugees or their own ricochets? How many soldiers refused to fire? How high in the ranks did knowledge of the events extend?

The troops dug in at No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, were members of the 7th Cavalry, a regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. The refugees who encountered them had been rousted by U.S. soldiers from nearby villages as the invading army of communist North Korea approached, the Korean claimants said.

It was the fifth week of the Korean War. Word was circulating among U.S. troops that northern soldiers disguised in white peasant garb might try to penetrate American lines via refugee groups.

“It was assumed there were enemy in these people,” ex-rifleman Herman W. Patterson of Greer, S.C., said of the civilian throng.

As they neared No Gun Ri, leading ox carts, with children on their backs, the hundreds of refugees were ordered off the dirt road by American soldiers and onto parallel railroad tracks, the Koreans said.

What then happened under the concrete bridge cannot be reconstructed in full detail. Although some ex-GIs poured out chilling memories, others offered only fragments, or abruptly ended their interviews. Over the three days, soldiers were dug in over hundreds of yards of hilly terrain, and no one — Korean or American — saw everything.

But the veterans corroborated the core of the Koreans’ account: that American troops kept the large group of refugees pinned under the No Gun Ri railroad bridge and killed almost all of them.

“It was just wholesale slaughter,” said Patterson.

Both the Koreans and several ex-GIs said the killing began when American planes suddenly swooped in and strafed an area where the white-clad refugees were resting. Bodies fell everywhere, and terrified parents dragged their children into a narrow culvert beneath the tracks, the Koreans said.

Some ex-GIs believe the strafing was a mistake, that the pilots were supposed to strike enemy artillery miles up the road. But declassified U.S. Air Force reports from mid-1950, found by the AP, show that pilots also sometimes deliberately attacked “people in white,” apparently suspecting disguised North Korean soldiers were among them.

Ex-GI Delos Flint said he and other soldiers were caught in the U.S. air attack and piled into the culvert with the refugees. Then “somebody — maybe our guys — was shooting in at us,” he recalled. The soldiers managed to slip out.

Retired Col. Robert M. Carroll, then a first lieutenant, remembers 7th Cavalry riflemen opening fire on the refugees from nearby positions.

“This is right after we get orders that nobody comes through, civilian, military, nobody,” said Carroll, of Lansdowne, Va.

Two days earlier, 1st Cavalry Division headquarters had issued an order: “No refugees to cross the front line. Fire everyone trying to cross lines. Use discretion in case of women and children.” A neighboring U.S. Army division, in its order, said civilians “are to be considered enemy.”

Experts in the law of war told the AP that such orders, to shoot civilians, are plainly illegal.

Carroll said he got the rifle companies to cease fire. “I wasn’t convinced this was enemy,” he said.

He then shepherded a boy to safety under a double-arched concrete railroad bridge nearby, where shaken and wounded Koreans were gathering. He saw no threat.

“There weren’t any North Koreans in there the first day... It was mainly women and kids and old men,” recalled Carroll, who said he then left the area and knows nothing about what followed.

The Americans directed the refugees into the 80-foot-long bridge underpasses and after dark opened fire on them from nearby machine-gun positions, the Koreans said.

Veterans said the heavy-weapons company commander, Capt. Melbourne C. Chandler, after speaking with superior officers by radio, had ordered machine-gunners to set up near the tunnel mouths and open fire.

“Chandler said, ‘The hell with all those people. Let’s get rid of all of them!’” said Eugene Hesselman of Fort Mitchell, Ky.

“We didn’t know if they were North or South Koreans. ... We were there only a couple of days and we didn’t know them from a load of coal.”

Chandler and other key officers are dead. The colonel who commanded the battalion, Herbert B. Heyer, 88, of Sandy Springs, Ga., told the AP he knew nothing about the shootings and “I know I didn’t give such an order.” Veterans said the colonel apparently was leaving operations to subordinates at the time.

The Korean claimants said those near the tunnel entrances died first.

“People pulled dead bodies around them for protection,” said survivor Chung Koo-ho, 61. “Mothers wrapped their children with blankets and hugged them with their backs toward the entrances. ... My mother died on the second day of shooting.”

Some ex-soldiers said gunfire was coming out of the underpasses, but others don’t remember any. None of the ex-GIs interviewed supported one veteran’s statement that he and others afterward discovered “at least seven” dead North Korean soldiers in the underpasses, in uniform under peasant white.

Some GIs didn’t fire, veterans said. “It was civilians just trying to hide,” said Flint, of Clio, Mich.

All 24 South Korean survivors interviewed individually by the AP said they remembered no North Koreans or gunfire directed at the Americans.

One suggested the Americans were seeing their own comrades’ gunfire ricocheting through from the tunnel’s opposite ends.

Relevant U.S. Army documents say nothing about North Korean soldiers killed under a bridge or anything else about No Gun Ri.

The precise death toll will never be known. The survivors believe 300 were killed at the bridge and 100 in the air attack. Ex-GIs close to the bridge generally put the dead there at about 200. “A lot” also were killed in the strafing, they say.

In authoritarian, U.S.-allied South Korea, the survivors were long discouraged from speaking out. In 1997, in a liberalized political atmosphere, they filed a claim with South Korea’s Government Compensation Committee. But the committee rejected it in April 1998, saying a five-year statute of limitations had expired long ago.

The AP reconstructed U.S. troop movements from map coordinates in declassified U.S. war records, narrowed the possibilities among Army units, then spent months tracing veterans — some 130 interviews by telephone and in person — to pinpoint the companies involved.

The U.S. government’s civil liability may be limited. It is largely protected by U.S. law against foreign lawsuits related to “combatant activities,” although the claimants say the killings were not directly combat-related.

War crimes prosecution appears even less likely. The U.S. military code condemns indiscriminate killing of civilians, even if a few enemy soldiers are among a large number of noncombatants killed, legal experts note. But prosecution so many years later is a practical impossibility, they say.

AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

“You’ve got to pay for your deeds sooner or later.”

— Norman Tinkler
U.S. Army machine-gunner at No Gun Ri

In Search Of History:
Koreans Fight To Lift The Veil

by Deirdre Griswold
Workers World

What happened during the 1950-53 Korean War has been erased, distorted and replaced with self-serving lies designed to make the U.S. invasion of that country look good. That spin on history is even phonier than saying the people of the U.S. elected George W. Bush president.

One event erased from the history books is the massacre of Korean civilians by U.S. troops at the village of No Gun Ri in July 1950. Last September [1999], however, reporters from the Associated Press wrote a story based on interviews with survivors of the massacre and with U.S. veterans who remember what happened. The story showed that at least 300 people, including small children and many women, had been machine-gunned to death by U.S. troops over several days as they huddled for protection under a railroad bridge.

That report opened Pandora’s box. Survivors of other massacres came forward all over south Korea to tell of other heinous crimes against civilians by both U.S. troops and the south Korean forces under U.S. command.

Moreover, the evidence showed that, far from being “unfortunate accidents” in the heat of war, these attacks on south Korean peasants and villagers were ordered from above.

The top Pentagon brass pursued a strategy of terror to eliminate sympathy in the south for the revolutionary army of Kim Il Sung, which had made deep advances into the south in the early months of the war. This liberation army was trying to throw out the ruling class of landlords and bosses who collaborated with Japanese colonialism until it was defeated in World War II, at which time they switched to working for the new foreign oppressor — U.S. imperialism.

Today in south Korea there are constant demonstrations against the U.S. military presence, which still stands at 37,000 U.S. troops some 47 years after the war’s end. Sentiment is running so strong there that the U.S. government had to agree to investigate the No Gun Ri massacre.

On Dec. 8 [2000], however, a joint commission of U.S. and south Korean officials failed to agree on what happened at No Gun Ri 50 years ago. Outside their meeting hall, survivors of the massacre joined hundreds of others in demonstrating and shouting, “Yankee, go home!”

Even if the U.S. government doesn’t officially admit its crimes, the people of south Korea are beginning to learn their true history.

true American flag - swastika and stripes - symbol of American state terrorism

Related pages

American Terrorism and Genocide of the Korean People

U.S. Biological Warfare Against the Korean People

Weapons of American Terrorism: Chemical & Biological Weapons

Neighborhood Bully: American Militarism
interview with Ramsey Clark

Related sites

Korea Truth Commission

“If you’ve found your way to this site, you’re probably someone who believes in justice. You may already be aware of the terrible massacres of unarmed and innocent Korean villagers at the hands of U.S. troops during the 1950/53 Korean War. But if you weren’t aware of it, it’s not your fault. For fifty years it has remained one of the best concealed chapters of U.S. military history.”

by John H. Kim

“The U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy were directly involved in the killing of about several million Korean civilians — both South Koreans and North Koreans — at many locations throughout Korea, including Masan, Sachon, Tanyang, Iksan, Changyong, Wegwan, Ducksung, Sinchun, Wonsan, Pyongyang, etc. Several hundreds of civilian refugees were blown apart when the U.S. Army blew up Wegwan and Ducksung bridges in S. Korea.”


Index page for a collection of articles and reports about American war crimes during the Korean genocide, as well as current events in Korea.


“Since September of 1999, evidences of more than 160 instances of US-led military attacks on more than 2.5 million Korean non-combatants (Washington Post, June 13, 2000 ) during the Korean War have surfaced. Hundreds of thousands of children, women, and elderly people are believed to have been massacred as a result of orders from the top U.S. military leadership.”

The People’s Korea

This North Korean website has important information on American war crimes during the Korean Genocide. In particular, see:

The Korean War http://www.korea-np.co.jp/pk/military/category36.htm This is an index page for many articles and documents. An example:

DPRK Foreign Ministry memorandum on GI mass killings http://www.korea-np.co.jp/pk/135th_issue/2000032902.htm

This page has a great deal of information, including the amount and type of bombings, the civilian targets and the many massacres carried out by American troops.

“The fact-finding group of the Women’s International Democratic Federation, in its report on the investigation made into the [American] GIs’ atrocities in the North Korea during the war, said:  ‘Every fact proves that this was a war of mass destruction, in which much more houses and food rather than military targets and war supplies were destroyed and more women and aged men than combatants killed. This war was against life itself.’”

true American flag - swastika and stripes - symbol of American state terrorism


The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951:
A Nonconformist History of Our Times
by I. F. Stone
Monthly Review Press, 1952; ASIN 0-316-81770-8

Rogue State:
A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
by William Blum

Killing Hope:
U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since WWII
by William Blum

The Origins of the Korean War
by Bruce Cumings
Princeton University Press, 1990

Blackshirts and Reds:
Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
by Michael Parenti

Apocalypse 1945:
The Destruction of Dresden
by David Irving

A People’s History of the United States:
1492 — Present
by Howard Zinn

The Beast Reawakens
by Martin A. Lee

What Uncle Sam Really Wants
by Noam Chomsky

Bloody Hell:
The Price Soldiers Pay
by Daniel Hallock

The Fire This Time:
U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf
by Ramsey Clark

Desert Slaughter:
The Imperialist War Against Iraq
by the Workers League

Against Empire
by Michael Parenti

The Sword and the Dollar:
Imperialism, Revolution and the Arms Race
by Michael Parenti

Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James Loewen

Deadly Deceits:
My 25 years in the CIA
by Ralph W. McGehee

The Real Terror Network:
Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda
by Edward S. Herman

Pirates and Emperors, Old and New:
International Terrorism in the Real World
by Noam Chomsky

Western State Terrorism
Alexander George, editor; essays by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Gerry O’Sullivan and others

Terrorizing the Neighborhood:
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era

by Noam Chomsky
Pressure Drop Press, 1991

The Culture of Terrorism
by Noam Chomsky

Inventing Reality:
The Politics of News Media
by Michael Parenti

The Hidden Persuaders:
What makes us buy, believe – and even vote – the way we do?
by Vance Packard

War, Lies & Videotape:
How media monopoly stifles truth
edited by Lenora Foerstel; multiple authors

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