Atrocities of a 'forgotten' war
Reports of wartime slaughterSouth Korea asks U.S. to join probe
of civilians spur feelings of
betrayal, grim recollection
By Susan Kreifels
Mignon Rhee was 10 years old when the Korean War broke out in 1950. North Koreans kidnapped her father one day, and she never heard from him again.
Duk Hee Murabayashi moved with her family from Seoul to Pusan when she was 9, becoming a refugee in her own land.
Violet Han was 4. Her sister died from a lack of medicine. Her mother, alone with seven children while her husband was at war, buried the body in a shallow grave since there was no cemetery.
The Korean War is often called the "forgotten war."
But, said Murabayashi, "We don't forget."
Memories flashed even stronger when the women this week read that U.S. soldiers in 1950 may have massacred more than 100 South Korean refugees, including women and children. "Miserable," Han said about the reports. "I have a betrayed feeling, not only by the U.S. government, but the Korean government, too."
"I feel the American soldiers were really making a mistake," Rhee said. "The government should have released the news at the time."
A dozen ex-soldiers have corroborated allegations of South Koreans who said they survived a mass killing by American GIs underneath a railroad bridge at a place called No Gun Ri, according to the Associated Press.
The veterans said the killings, in the first weeks of the war, came on orders from U.S. commanders to shoot South Korean civilians as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers from the north, who were believed to be among the refugees.
Claims for compensation by the Korean survivors were turned down last year. The survivors said 300 were shot to death at the bridge, and 100 died in a preceding U.S. air attack.
Although a recent Army investigation found no basis for the claims, the Pentagon said it would conduct a "quick and thorough study" of the actions of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Janis Koh, president of the Hawaii chapter of the Korean American Coalition, said reparations should be paid if the allegations are proven true.
"It disturbs me a great deal that there were children" and old people, Koh said. "Korean Americans will be disturbed if the case clearly comes out as true." Much will depend, she said, on how the U.S. government handles the issue.
Murabayashi said apologies from the government and military would be "a sign of respect."
Robert Talmadge was a U.S. Marine supply sergeant who arrived shortly after the alleged incident. He never heard of such an attack.
"I can't picture a commander telling his troops to fire into the South Koreans because there might be a couple of enemies hiding with them," Talmadge said.
But Thomas Kalus, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, said it "absolutely could have happened. The worst fear a combat veteran has is to be with a young greenhorn who has never heard gunfire."
Kalus said the 1st Cavalry Division had just landed from Japan with little experience, replacing the 24th Division. "North Koreans had mauled them badly," Kalus said. "They were falling back. They (the 1st) saw all the troops in almost a state of shock."
In the first weeks, U.S. forces were vastly outnumbered by the North Koreans. For teen-age soldiers who had arrived as replacements, "it was intimidating," Talmadge said. They'd heard stories about North Koreans disguised as refugees "and having a grenade."
As to why the stories never came out for 50 years, the two veterans could only guess.
"Possibly because the individuals involved were so ashamed, it was something they didn't want to talk about," Talmadge speculated. "Possibly over the years their conscience began to weigh -- a mind-cleansing thing."
Kalus said earlier attempts to give out the information might have been suppressed.
"They knew they gave illegal orders, they were not going to put themselves on the line," Kalus speculated. "I feel sorry for anybody who might have been involved. The Koreans suffered enough."
Edward Shultz, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said he had always wondered whether a My Lai-type slaughter had occurred in the Korean War. In Vietnam, U.S. soldiers may have killed more than 500 Vietnamese civilians in 1968 at My Lai.
"I was sick to learn that it really did," Shultz said. "As Americans we have to be appalled, yet none of us were there and caught up in the situation those men were in."
Shultz said it is also disturbing that the Korean government pushed claims aside years ago. But "a military government was in power. The major concern was economic advancement. Human rights were secondary."
This is not the first time Korean citizens have brought war atrocities to light. Korean "comfort women" have demanded reparation and an apology from the Japanese government for making them sex slaves for troops during World War II.
Shultz predicted: "Thoughtful Korean people will look at this (Korean War) tragedy and share the same sense of remorse. But they will realize it was one more unfortunate consequence of war, and realize why they have to do everything they can to avoid more war."
S.Korea pursuesAssociated Press
joint U.S. war
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's president today called for a joint U.S.-South Korean probe into allegations that American forces gunned down several hundred refugees at the start of the Korean War.
"We must be aggressive in unveiling the truth," President Kim Dae-jung was quoted as telling a meeting of his senior aides. "Investigating together with the United States will be more efficient."
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported accounts by American veterans and South Korean villagers who said they saw U.S. soldiers kill up to 400 civilians in No Gun Ri, South Korea, in 1950 during the early days of the war.
The AP also found once-classified documents showing that U.S. commanders ordered their troops to shoot civilians as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers.
Communist North Korean news media carried the key points of the report today, according to the North's official foreign news outlet, KCNA. It offered no government comments, but described No Gun Ri as a "massacre" and "genocide" by the "U.S. imperialist aggression forces." North Korea claims the 1950-53 war was started by the United States -- a claim rejected by most historians.
In South Korea, Kim said his government will give special priority to investigating the report, said his chief spokesman, Park June-young. Kim also indicated that the government will help compensate the victims.
Officials at both the foreign and defense ministries said they began contacting U.S. officials for possible cooperation.
Aging South Koreans who said they survived the killings at No Gun Ri issued a statement demanding they be represented in any investigative team organized by the two countries.
They also said they would not allow any anti-American elements in their campaign for the truth because they recognize the friendly relations between Washington and Seoul and the security role the U.S. plays in the peninsula.