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Army to investigate allegations of Korean War massacre

September 30, 1999
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT)

In this story:

Conflicting accounts

'No information to substantiate the claim'


From CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon said Thursday it will investigate charges leveled in an Associated Press story that U.S. Army troops gunned down "hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge" in the South Korean countryside in late July 1950.

"These reports are, of course, very disturbing," said Army Secretary Louis Caldera, who will head a new investigation. "I am committed to finding out the truth of these matters, as best we can, after these many years."

The two Koreas

Korea massacre investigation

"We owe the American people, our veterans and our friends and allies in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) a full accounting of these matters," he told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

"Earlier this year, our Army Center for Military History did a search and found nothing in the official records that substantiates the claims that U.S. Army soldiers perpetrated such massacres," Caldera said, adding that the new investigation would be more expansive.

"Although it would not excuse such alleged acts," Caldera said, "history records that the early weeks of the Korean conflict were very chaotic."

"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," the Army secretary said.

President Clinton said he was briefed on the story Thursday morning by Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Caldera: "The early weeks of the Korean conflict were very chaotic"  

U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said the allegations are "deeply troubling," and Cohen promised to "look into" new evidence presented by the AP.

Traveling in Indonesia, Cohen repeated the Pentagon's contention that previous investigations had failed to corroborate the charges, which were first leveled by South Korean villagers who say they survived the attack at No Gun Ri, a hamlet 100 miles southeast of Seoul.

"I am not aware of any evidence that would support or substantiate those claims," he said. "But, to the degree that any substantive information is forthcoming, we certainly would look at it. But 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."

Conflicting accounts

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 says he fired on 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.

Cohen briefed President Clinton about the allegations Thursday morning  

But retired Army Col. Robert Carroll, reached by CNN at his home in Northern Virginia on Thursday, disputed Tinkler's account

Carroll said he was a first lieutenant at the time, and was at the scene.

He told CNN, "We were not using our machine guns except when we were under attack because we were short on ammunition. We had not been resupplied, we had been moving, retreating, falling back for about a week. So that guy is dreaming."

But 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.

Tinkler told CNN that, in his mind, the attack was justified because the day before several American soldiers had been killed while trying to search a group of refugees, when North Korean troops hiding among the refugees attacked them with guns and hand grenades.

Tinkler also was interviewed by The Associated Press, but the details of his 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."

Carroll told CNN that the order was not interpreted as orders to fire on women and children. "You turn them away, you stop them and you fire on them," he said. "But 'use discretion' was part of that order. 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 it had to be later in the day, after I left, and somebody would have countermanded that order."

But 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.

One of the veterans quoted by AP, Eugene Hesselman of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, also was contacted by CNN. He confirmed that he told AP that Capt. Melborne Chandler, now deceased, ordered the refugees shot, but said he did not take part in or witness any of the shootings.

Hesselman told CNN he served as a sort of company clerk and was "right with" Capt. Chandler all the time, keeping records on a pad of paper.

'No information to substantiate the claim'

The Pentagon says an "exhaustive review" of military records "found no information to substantiate the claim that U.S. soldiers perpetrated a massacre of South Korean civilians at Nokuen-Ri (No Gun Ri)."

One of the Pentagon documents The Associated Press provided to support its story refers to the chaos of the time.

It reads:

    "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.

Tinkler said he never questioned whether it was right to shoot the civilians. "It was war. It was either that or die," he told CNN.

The Pentagon, while finding no documentation to support a massacre, could not rule out that it took place.

"I don't find it unfathomable that it could have happened," said one Pentagon official who asked not to be named.

But Carroll doesn't think any massacre took place.

"This is selective and imaginative memory on the part of a lot of people," he told CNN.

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Korean Central News Agency
Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea
East Asian media
U.S. Department of Defense
  • Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
  • The Pentagon
U.S. Army
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