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'All-encompassing' probe ordered into alleged Korean War massacre
October 1, 1999
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has ordered the Army to fully investigate claims in an Associated Press report that U.S. troops gunned down perhaps hundreds of South Korean civilians under a railroad bridge in the early days of the Korean War.
"I am not aware of any evidence that would support or substantiate those claims," Cohen said while on a visit to Indonesia. "But to the degree that any substantive information is forthcoming, we certainly would look at it."
Cohen said, "This has been examined on several occasions in the past, and I am not aware that there is any information that would corroborate or support that."
In Washington, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said the review would be "all-encompassing."
Caldera said, "I am committed to finding out the truth of these matters as best we can after these many years."
The Army secretary also noted that the early weeks of the Korean conflict, when the alleged massacre occurred, were chaotic, "although it would not excuse such alleged acts."
Caldera said, "U.S. soldiers, although they fought with great courage, under very harsh conditions, were ill-trained and ill-equipped to fight because of a large reduction in resources available to the military for training and equipment following World War II."
President Bill Clinton said he was briefed on the matter by Cohen on Thursday morning.
Veteran says up to 125 civilians killed
For years, both the U.S. and South Korean governments refused to grant compensation to South Korean civilians who claimed they were victims of the alleged massacre in July 1950 at No Gun Ri, a hamlet 100 miles southeast of Seoul.
But now, the Associated Press has documented the villagers' claims with first-hand accounts from six U.S. veterans.
CNN has talked to some of the U.S. Army veterans who were at the scene of the alleged attack and received conflicting accounts of what happened.
Among the Army veterans CNN spoke to was Norman Tinkler of Glasco, Kansas, who was 19 on that day in 1950. Tinkler says he fired on the refugees with his 30-caliber machine gun as the refugees attempted to cross a bridge heading south, because of orders not to allow anyone, including civilians, to cross south of his position.
He estimated that 100 to 125 were killed on the railroad tracks leading up to the bridge.
"There were no survivors," he told CNN in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Tinkler said he never questioned whether it was right to shoot the civilians. "It was war," he said. "It was either that or die."
Tinkler told CNN that in his mind the attack was justified because on the day before several U.S. soldiers were killed while trying to search a group of refugees, as North Korean troops hiding among the refugees attacked with guns and hand grenades.
Officer on scene disputes claims
However, retired Col. Robert Carroll, who was a lieutenant on the scene at No Gun Ri, tells CNN he is convinced no slaughter of civilians took place. He called the allegation "selective and imaginative memory on the part of a lot of people."
Carroll said the orders he received, while ordering troops to fire on anyone trying to cross the front lines, also urged discretion in the case of women and children.
"'Use discretion' was part of that order," he said. "We used discretion. We did not fire automatic weapons. There was a few riflemen fired at them when they came around the bend. I stopped that. I personally stopped all the firing.
"If there was any firing at those (people), it had to be later in the day, after I left. And somebody would have countermanded that order," he said.
"We were not using our machine guns except when we were under attack because we were short on ammunition," Carroll said. "We had not been resupplied; we had been moving, retreating, falling back for about a week. So that guy is dreaming."
Veteran's account differs from that of survivors
Tinkler said he was manning a machine gun overlooking one end of the bridge, and another gunner was at the other end, when the refugees began to move across the bridge.
The details of that account to CNN differ with the picture pieced together by the AP. The wire service investigation, which included interviews with South Korean survivors, said the refugees were gunned down as they were huddled under the bridge, trapped because the U.S. troops would not let them pass.
The AP account says an order issued by the 1st Cavalry Division headquarters read, "No refugees to cross the front line. Fire on everyone trying to cross lines. Use discretion in case of women and children."
And, according to the AP, a neighboring U.S. Army division, in its order, said civilians "are to be considered enemy." The AP also says a U.S. Army captain gave specific orders to "get rid" of the refugees under the bridge at No Gun Ri, apparently because he suspected they might be harboring North Korean troops.
Another of the veterans quoted by AP, Eugene Hesselman, of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, confirmed to CNN that he told the AP that Capt. Melborne Chandler, now deceased, ordered the refugees shot. But he said he did not take part in or witness any of the shootings.
Hesselman told CNN that he served as a sort of company clerk and was with Chandler all the time, keeping records on a pad of paper.
While U.S. officials have maintained that records don't show any U.S. troops near the scene of the alleged attack, the Associated Press said it found such records. The AP also reported that it found written orders directing U.S. troops to consider all civilians seen in the area as enemies -- an apparent violation of the rules of war.
Time of 'great stress and chaos'
One of the Pentagon documents The Associated Press provided to support its story refers to the chaos of the time.
"The period of time, 26-29 July 1950, was one of great stress and chaos with U.S. Army units conducting a fighting retreat against the invading North Koreans and facing heavy odds. Frequent relocation of friendly units, difficulties in supervising refugee withdrawal, the prevalence of fighting during limited visibility, the communist practice of using civilians to test for minefields and of infiltrating disguised as civilians, and the technological limits of air and artillery coordination combined to make very real the danger of potential civilian causalities. Our research, however, produced no evidence to demonstrate U.S. Army involvement with the death of the villagers of Nokuen-Ri, Korea, in 1950."
Tinkler described to CNN how ill-prepared and ill-equipped the U.S. troops were when they arrived in Korea. Outnumbered 50-to-1, the U.S. forces were taking heavy casualties. Tinkler said his unit had 230 troops when it landed, but only 156 a few days later.
Sherman Pratt of the Korean War Veterans Association says the massacre allegation has to be judged in the context of the times.
"Garrison troops had been pulled out of occupation duty in Japan and suddenly thrown into Korea in an area of great confusion, disorientation, fear (and) trepidation at a time when the North Koreans were smashing down the Korean Peninsula," he said.
"It was a very desperate, panicky situation in those early days of the Korean War," Pratt said.
Army to investigate allegations of Korean War massacre
Korean Central News Agency
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