Letter reveals U.S. intent at No Gun Ri
Letter reveals U.S. intent at No Gun Ri
By CHARLES J. HANLEY and MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated
Press Writers 2 hours, 14 minutes ago
Six years after declaring the U.S. killing of Korean
War refugees at No Gun Ri was "not deliberate," the
Army has acknowledged it found but did not divulge
that a high-level document said the U.S. military had
a policy of shooting approaching civilians in
The document, a letter from the U.S. ambassador in
South Korea to the State Department in Washington, is
dated the day in 1950 when U.S. troops began the No
Gun Ri shootings, in which survivors say hundreds,
mostly women and children, were killed.
Exclusion of the embassy letter from the Army's 2001
investigative report is the most significant among
numerous omissions of documents and testimony pointing
to a policy of firing on refugee groups undisclosed
evidence uncovered by Associated Press archival
research and Freedom of Information Act requests.
South Korean petitioners say hundreds more refugees
died later in 1950 as a result of the U.S. practice.
The Seoul government is investigating one such
large-scale killing, of refugees stranded on a beach,
newly confirmed via U.S. archives.
No Gun Ri survivors, who call the Army's 2001
investigation a "whitewash," are demanding a reopened
investigation, compensation and a U.S. apology.
Harvard historian Sahr Conway-Lanz first disclosed the
existence of Ambassador John H. Muccio's 1950 letter
in a scholarly article and a 2006 book, "Collateral
Damage." He uncovered the declassified document at the
U.S. National Archives.
When asked last year, the Pentagon didn't address the
central question of whether U.S. investigators had
seen the document before issuing their No Gun Ri
report. Ex-Army Secretary Louis Caldera suggested to
The Associated Press that Army researchers may have
After South Korea asked for more information, however,
the Pentagon acknowledged to the Seoul government that
it examined Muccio's letter in 2000 but dismissed it.
It did so because the letter "outlined a proposed
policy," not an approved one, Army spokesman Paul
Boyce argues in a recent e-mail to the AP.
But Muccio's message to Assistant Secretary of State
Dean Rusk states unambiguously that "decisions made"
at a high-level U.S.-South Korean meeting in Taegu,
South Korea, on July 25, 1950, included a policy to
shoot approaching refugees. The reason: American
commanders feared that disguised North Korean enemy
troops were infiltrating their lines via refugee
"If refugees do appear from north of US lines they
will receive warning shots, and if they then persist
in advancing they will be shot," the ambassador told
Rusk, cautioning that these shootings might cause
"repercussions in the United States." Deliberately
attacking noncombatants is a war crime.
Told of the Pentagon's rationale for excluding the
Muccio letter from its investigative report, No Gun Ri
expert Yi Mahn-yol, retired head of Seoul's National
Institute of Korean History, suggested the letter was
suppressed because it was "disadvantageous" to the
"If they set it aside as nothing significant, we can
say that it was an intentional exclusion," he said.
Conway-Lanz called the Pentagon's explanation
"The Muccio letter in plain English says, `Decisions
were made,'" the historian noted.
No Gun Ri survivors said U.S. soldiers first forced
them from nearby villages on July 25, 1950, and then
stopped them in front of U.S. lines the next day, when
they were attacked without warning by aircraft as
hundreds sat atop a railroad embankment near No Gun
Ri, a village in central South Korea. Troops of the
7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment followed with ground fire as
survivors took shelter in twin underpasses of a
concrete railroad bridge.
The killings remained hidden from history until an AP
report in 1999 cited a dozen ex-soldiers who
corroborated the Korean survivors' accounts, prompting
the Pentagon to open its inquiry after years of
dismissing the allegations.
The Army veterans' estimates of dead ranged from under
100 to "hundreds." Korean survivors say they believe
about 400 were killed. Korean authorities have
certified the identities of at least 163 dead or
No Gun Ri, where no evidence emerged of enemy
infiltrators, was not the only such incident. As 1950
wore on, U.S. commanders repeatedly ordered refugees
shot, according to declassified documents obtained by
One incident, on Sept. 1, 1950, has been confirmed by
the declassified official diary of the USS DeHaven,
which says that the Navy destroyer, at Army
insistence, fired on a seaside refugee encampment at
Pohang, South Korea. Survivors say 100 to 200 people
were killed. South Korean officials announced in
February they would investigate.
More than a dozen documents in which high-ranking
U.S. officers tell troops that refugees are "fair
game," for example, and order them to "shoot all
refugees coming across river" were found by the AP
in the investigators' own archived files after the
2001 inquiry. None of those documents was disclosed in
the Army's 300-page public report.
South Koreans have filed reports with their government
of more than 60 such episodes during the 1950-53 war.
Despite this, the Army's e-mail to the AP maintains,
as did the 2001 report, "No policy purporting to
authorize soldiers to shoot refugees was ever
promulgated to soldiers in the field."
The 2001 official report instead focused on a single
document issued the day the No Gun Ri shootings began,
a Korea-wide Army order saying refugees should be
stopped from crossing U.S. lines. That order did not
say how they should be stopped, but retired Army Col.
Robert M. Carroll, a lieutenant at No Gun Ri, said the
meaning was clear.
"What do you do when you're told nobody comes
through?" Carroll said in an AP interview before his
death in 2004. If they didn't stop, he said, "we had
to shoot them to hold them back."
Other ex-soldier eyewitnesses, including headquarters
radiomen, told the AP that orders came down to the 7th
Cavalry's 2nd Battalion command post, and were relayed
through front-line companies at No Gun Ri, to open
fire on the mass of village families, baggage and farm
Such communications would have been recorded in the
7th Cavalry Regiment's journal, but that log is
missing without explanation from the National
Archives. Without disclosing this crucial gap, the
Army's 2001 report asserted there were no such orders.
It suggested soldiers shot the refugees in a panic,
questioned estimates of hundreds of dead, and absolved
the U.S. military of liability.
The Army report didn't disclose that veterans told
Army investigators of "kill" orders, of seeing stacks
of dead at No Gun Ri, and of earlier documentation of
the killings. Such interview transcripts have been
obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests.
_Ex-Air Force pilot Clyde Good, 87, of Melbourne,
Fla., told investigators his four-plane mission, under
orders, attacked 300-400 refugees in mid-1950 on
suspicion the group harbored infiltrators. "I didn't
like the idea," he said. "They had some young ones,
too. ... kids on the road." A South Korean government
report in 2001 said five ex-pilots told Pentagon
interviewers of such orders. The U.S. report claimed
"all pilots interviewed" knew nothing about such
_The U.S. report said the No Gun Ri shootings weren't
documented at the time. It didn't disclose that
ex-Army clerk Mac W. Hilliard, 78, of Weed, Calif.,
testified he remembered typing into the now-missing
regimental journal an officer's handwritten report
that 300 refugees had been fired on. "If you see 'em,
kill 'em" was the general attitude toward civilians,
Hilliard told the AP in reaffirming his testimony.
_The Army report said ex-GIs estimating large numbers
of dead were using "guesswork," that none got a
close-up look. But in a transcript obtained by the AP,
ex-soldier Homer Garza told a Pentagon interrogator he
was sent on patrol through one underpass and saw heaps
"There were probably 200 or 300 civilians there
babies, old papa-sans," Garza, 73, of Hurst, Texas,
said in a subsequent AP interview. Most may have been
dead, but it was hard to tell because "they were
stacked on top of one another," said Garza, who
retired as a command sergeant major, the Army's
highest enlisted rank.
In addition, the 2001 report by the Army
inspector-general didn't disclose the existence of
July 1950 mission reports from the Air Force's 35th
Fighter-Bomber Squadron that said pilots attacked
apparent refugee groups and struck at or near No Gun
Ri on the dates of the killings.
In describing another critical document, a July 25,
1950, memo from the Air Force operations chief in
Korea, the Army report dropped its key passage: a
paragraph saying pilots, at the Army's request, were
strafing refugee groups approaching U.S. lines. The
Army report portrayed the strafing as a proposal, not
a fact, as the Army now is doing with the Muccio
The Pentagon has told the South Korean government the
ambassador's letter, evidence that senior Washington
officials knew of a policy to shoot South Korean
refugees, does not warrant a reopening of the No Gun
Seoul accepts that U.S. position, said a South Korean
Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of
Informed of the Pentagon position, the No Gun Ri
survivors issued a statement. "We cannot accept the
U.S. Defense Department's false explanation and are
indignant over the repeated lies by the U.S. Defense
Department," it said.
AP Writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and AP Investigative
Researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to