No Gun Ri Massacre

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No Gun Ri Massacre
Part of the Korean War
The twin-underpass railroad bridge at No Gun Ri, South Korea, in 1960. Ten years earlier, members of the U.S. military killed a large number of South Korean refugees under and around the bridge, early in the Korean War.
The twin-underpass railroad bridge at No Gun Ri, South Korea, in 1960. Ten years earlier, members of the U.S. military killed a large number of South Korean refugees under and around the bridge, early in the Korean War.
No Gun Ri Massacre is located in South Korea
No Gun Ri Massacre
Location Nogeun-ri, South Korea
Coordinates Coordinates: 36°10′30″N 127°46′30″E / 36.17500°N 127.77500°E / 36.17500; 127.77500
Date July 26, 1950 (1950-07-26) – July 29, 1950 (1950-07-29)
Attack type
Shooting and air attack[1]:947-949
Deaths At least 163 dead or missing, according to South Korea
About 400 dead, according to survivors[2]
Unknown, according to the U.S.[3]:xiv
Victims South Korean refugees
Assailants U.S. military

The No Gun Ri Massacre (Hangul: 노근리 민간인 학살 사건; hanja: 老斤里良民虐殺事件; RR: Nogeulli Mingan-in Hagsal Sageon) occurred on July 26–29, 1950, early in the Korean War, when an undetermined number of South Korean refugees were killed by the 2nd Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry, and a U.S. air attack, at a railroad bridge near the village of No Gun Ri (Korean: 노근리), 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Seoul.[4]:463-465 In 2005, a South Korean government inquest certified the names of 163 dead or missing and 55 wounded and added that many other victims' names were not reported.[5]:247–249,328,278 The South Korean government-funded No Gun Ri Peace Foundation estimated in 2011 that 250–300 were killed, mostly women and children.[6]

The massacre allegations were little-known outside Korea until publication of an Associated Press (AP) story in 1999 in which 7th Cavalry veterans corroborated Korean survivors' accounts.[2] The AP also uncovered U.S. Army orders to fire on approaching civilians because of reports of North Korean infiltration of refugee groups.[7]:2 Some details were disputed, but the massacre account was found to be essentially correct.[8] In 2001, the U.S. Army conducted an investigation and, after previously rejecting survivors' claims, acknowledged the killings but described the three-day event as "an unfortunate tragedy inherent to war and not a deliberate killing". The army rejected survivors' demands for an apology and compensation.[9] United States President Bill Clinton issued a statement of regret, adding the next day that "things happened which were wrong".[10]

South Korean investigators disagreed with the U.S. report, saying they believed 7th Cavalry troops were ordered to fire on the refugees. The survivors' group called the U.S. report a "whitewash".[11] The AP later discovered additional archival documents showing U.S. commanders had ordered troops to "shoot" and "fire on" civilians at the war front during this period; these declassified documents had been found but not disclosed by the Pentagon investigators.[12]:530 American historian Sahr Conway-Lanz reported that among undisclosed documents was a letter from the U.S. ambassador in South Korea stating that the U.S. military had adopted a theater-wide policy of firing on approaching refugee groups.[13]:599-600 Despite demands, the U.S. investigation was not reopened.[12]:523

The attention gained by No Gun Ri prompted South Korean government investigations into other alleged U.S. killings of civilians during the Korean War.[14][15]


Main article: Korean War
Huge numbers of South Koreans fled south in mid-1950 after the North Korean army invaded. By spring 1951, the U.S.-led U.N. Command estimated 5 million South and North Koreans had become refugees.[16]:150-151 (U.S. Defense Department photo)

The division of Japan's former Korean colony into two zones at the end of World War II led to years of border skirmishing between U.S.-allied South Korea and Soviet-allied North Korea. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army invaded the south to try to reunify the peninsula, beginning the Korean War.

The invasion caught South Korea and its American ally by surprise, and sent the defending South Korean forces into retreat. The U.S. moved troops from Japan to fight alongside the South Koreans. The first troops landed on July 1, and by July 22 three U.S. Army divisions were in Korea, including the 1st Cavalry Division.[17]:61,197 These American troops were insufficiently trained, poorly equipped and often led by inexperienced officers.[18]:123 In particular, they lacked training in how to deal with war-displaced civilians.[3]:iv-v The combined U.S. and South Korean forces were initially unable to stop the North Korean advance, and continued to retreat throughout July.[19]:54

In the two weeks following the first significant U.S. ground troop engagement on July 5, the U.S. Army estimated that 380,000 South Korean civilians fled south, passing through the retreating U.S. and South Korean lines.[17]:251 With gaps in their lines, U.S. forces were attacked from the rear, and reports spread that disguised North Korean soldiers were infiltrating refugee columns. [17]:131,158,202 [20] Because of these concerns, orders were issued to fire on Korean civilians in front-line areas.[21][22] Among those issuing the orders was 1st Cavalry Division commander Maj. Gen. Hobart R. Gay, who deemed Koreans left in the war zone to be “enemy agents,” according to U.S. war correspondent O.H.P. King and U.S. diplomat Harold Joyce Noble.[23] [24] On the night of July 25, that division’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment,[nb 1] hearing of an enemy breakthrough, fled rearward from its forward positions, to be reorganized the next morning, digging in near the central South Korean village of No Gun Ri. .[17]:203 [25] Later that day, July 26, 1950, these troops saw hundreds of refugees approaching, many from the nearby villages of Chu Gok Ri and Im Ke Ri.[26]:90,116


Events of 25–29 July 1950[edit]

As North Korean forces seized the central South Korean town of Yongdong on July 25, 1950, 1st Cavalry Division troops began evacuating villages in front of the enemy advance, including hundreds of residents of Chu Gok Ri and Im Ke Ri. As they headed south down the main road, they were joined by other refugees. That first night, the refugees were ordered to camp on a riverbank near the town of Ha Ga Ri. Several refugees were killed that first evening,[3]:143 and accounts differ as to why there were casualties among the refugees that first night. According to some Korean survivors, American soldiers shot several refugees as they strayed from a roadside assembly area or ignored instructions to remain in place.[26]:110–114 Other survivors recall refugees being injured in the crossfire between the advancing KPA and defending U.S. forces.[3]:144

The next day, July 26, the refugees awoke to find most of the U.S. soldiers had left the positions they held the night before. The refugee column then proceeded towards the No Gun Ri area, 5 miles (8.0 km) from their homes. When they arrived at a U.S. roadblock, they were searched for weapons and contraband and made to move to the parallel railroad tracks to clear the road for vehicle traffic. Survivors said the U.S. troops who searched them radioed to overhead warplanes to attack the refugee group.[27] In a 2007 German television documentary, Yang Hae-chan described the air attack: "Suddenly bombers flew over and opened fire without warning. They came back again and again firing at us. Chaos broke out among the refugees. We ran around wildly trying to get away. But in that first attack very many people were hit and killed."[28] Due to the lack of a tactical air control party (TACP) assigned to the regiment, it was deemed highly improbable by both investigation teams that the soldiers who searched the civilians called in this airstrike, as they lacked the technical capability to do so.[3]:204

An explanation for the strafing of refugees was never confirmed by investigators. While several of the U.S. veterans stated that airstrikes were occurring in the valley out of their line of sight and many Korean refugees recalled an attack from the air that day, no flight logs or action summaries from any air assets operating in or around the No Gun Ri area reported an attack of this type in that area.[3]:181 With aircraft flying too fast to positively identify a target and with a shortage of TACPs, friendly fire was always a concern; earlier on the 26th, the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry’s regimental command post was attacked by an F-80[3]:97[29]:244 and the strafing of the refugees was dangerously close to U.S. forces.[29]:126

Early on the 25th, the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment broke ranks, abandoned its equipment and began a disorganized easterly retreat away from Yongdong, believing they were being enveloped by the KPA.[29]:99 Beginning that evening and continuing through the early hours of the 27th, the 2/7 was reorganized by Major William Witherspoon, the regimental operations officer, and ordered to dig in on a ridgeline adjacent to the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, just east of and overlooking No Gun Ri.[3]:87

According to the South Korean government’s investigation, over the course of the next three days, dug-in troops of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, opened fire on the refugees, some of whom took shelter in a low, narrow culvert beneath the railroad embankment. The small arms and mortar fire forced them into a larger double tunnel beneath a railroad bridge.[27] Survivor Park Sun-yong said corpses were piled up as shields against the gunfire: "Children were screaming in fear and the adults were praying for their lives, and the whole time they never stopped shooting."[30] Chung Koo-ho said in a 2009 South Korean documentary, "Even now if I close my eyes I can see the people who were dying, as they cried out someone's name."[31]

Interviews by news organizations and the inspector general of the army discovered a wide variety of recollections from the 7th Cavalry veterans. Joseph Jackman, a G Company rifleman, told the BBC that he had deliberately shot people who were congregating around the tunnels: “I don't know if they were soldiers or what. Kids, there was kids out there, it didn't matter what it was, 8 to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, they shot 'em all,"[32] Norman L. Tinkler, an H Company machine gunner, remembered firing on white-clad people coming down the railroad tracks toward the bridge, including "a lot of women and children." He stated that he had fired roughly 1,000 rounds and assumed "there weren't no survivors".[33][34] Other veterans, such as Buddy Wenzel, recalled that they fired warning shots over the refugees to keep them contained when the group panicked and the refugees “started to run towards us. We were firing over them all this time. Then somebody yelled, 'We’re being fired at,' then there was a bunch that started shooting into the refugees."[29] Wenzel and several other veterans stated that weapons, including a PPSh-41 and several grenades, were recovered after the shooting stopped.[29]:120 Retired colonel Robert Carroll, then a 25-year-old first lieutenant reconnaissance officer assigned to 2nd Battalion’s H Company, stated there was no order given to any machine gunner under his command to open fire and that none did. Carroll said that he did stop some sporadic shooting at refugees, but that they were over 300 yards away and were not being hit. After a young child running down the track was hit, Carroll carried the child back to the tunnel where the battalion surgeon was treating half a dozen individuals injured by shrapnel.[35]

Veterans from the nearby 1st Battalion also witnessed the unfolding events. Thomas H. Hacha, dug in nearby with the 1/7, said that he “could see the tracers (bullets) spinning around inside the tunnel ... and they were dying down there. I could hear the people screaming."[36] The 7th Cavalry treated and evacuated a number of the wounded, but they did not allow the rest of the surviving refugees passage behind their lines, and kept them under the rail bridge.[37]:91 Over next two days, the refugees were kept in the tunnel by the 2/7 on one side and by the 1/7, who were defending against repeated infantry and armor incursions, probing attacks, and artillery barrages by the KPA’s 3rd Division.[37]:70

On July 29, 1950, three days after the killings began, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was withdrawn from its positions to Hwanggan as the U.S. retreat continued.[17]:203


In the earliest published account of the killings, three weeks afterward, Chun Wook, a journalist with the North Korean 3rd Division troops who advanced to No Gun Ri, reported finding the area covered with layers of bodies and said about 400 people had been killed.[38][39] Over the years, the survivors' own estimates of dead ranged from 300 to 500, with perhaps 150 wounded. In Pentagon interviews in 2000, 7th Cavalry veterans' estimates of No Gun Ri dead ranged from dozens to 300.[5]:107 Homer Garza, a retired command sergeant major who led a patrol through one No Gun Ri tunnel, said he saw 200 to 300 bodies piled up there, and most may have been dead.[30][40]

The U.S. Army's 2001 investigative report, citing 1950 aerial imagery, questioned the higher casualty estimates.[3]:190–191 In 2005, the South Korean government's Committee for the Review and Restoration of Honor for the No Gun Ri Victims, after a yearlong process of verifying claims through family registers, medical reports and other documents and testimony, certified the names of 150 No Gun Ri dead, 13 missing and 55 wounded, including some who later died of their wounds. It said reports were not filed on many other victims because of the passage of time and other factors. Of the certified victims, 41 percent were children under 15, and 70 percent were women, children or men over age 61.[5]:247–249,328,278[41]


This 2008 photo shows a concrete abutment outside the No Gun Ri bridge, where investigators' white paint identifies bullet marks and embedded fragments from U.S. Army gunfire in the 1950 shooting of South Korean refugees.

At the war’s outbreak, the United States declared it would abide by the 1907 Hague Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions' articles regarding protection of civilians during wartime.[5]:113 The Hague Convention and the U.S. Army's own contemporaneous Rules of Land Warfare manual said that belligerents must distinguish non-combatants from combatants and treat them humanely.[4]:473-477[nb 2][nb 3]

Information about the refugee killing reached the U.S. command in Korea and the Pentagon by late August 1950, in the form of a captured and translated North Korean military document that described the discovery.[42] Evidence of high-level knowledge also appeared a month later in a New York Times article from Korea, which reported without further detail that an unnamed high-ranking U.S. officer told the reporter of the “panicky” shooting of “many civilians” by a U.S. Army regiment that July.[43] No evidence has emerged, however, that the U.S. military investigated the incident at the time.[26]:170


During the U.S.-supported postwar autocracy of President Syngman Rhee, survivors of No Gun Ri did not file any public complaints. Following the April Revolution in 1960, which briefly established democracy in South Korea, former policeman Chung Eun-yong filed the first petition to the South Korean and U.S. governments. His two children, a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, had been killed while his wife, Park Sun-yong, was badly wounded at No Gun Ri.[44][45] Over 30 petitions, calling for an investigation, apology and compensation, were filed over the next decades, by Chung and later by a survivors' committee.[5]:129,126

It goes beyond comprehension why they attacked and killed them with such cruelty. The U.S. government should take responsibility.

— excerpt from Chung's 1960 petition.[5]:129,126

In 1994, the U.S. Armed Forces Claims Service in Korea dismissed one No Gun Ri petition by asserting that any killings took place during combat. The survivors' committee retorted that there was no battle at No Gun Ri,[46] but U.S. officials refused to reconsider.[13]:591 In 1997, the survivors filed a claim with a South Korean compensation committee under the binational Status of Forces Agreement. This time, the U.S. claims service responded by again citing what it claimed was a combat situation and saying there was no evidence the 1st Cavalry Division was at No Gun Ri, as the survivors' research indicated.[5]:132,133 The 1961 official Army history made clear, however, that the division was in the area in late July 1950.[17]:179

On April 28, 1998, the Seoul government committee made a final ruling against the No Gun Ri survivors, citing the long-ago expiration of a five-year statute of limitations.[5]:135

Associated Press story[edit]

In October 1999, after release of the Associated Press report confirming the No Gun Ri refugee killings, Chung Eun-yong, leader of the survivors committee, reads a petition in Seoul, South Korea, calling for a "truthful and speedy" investigation.

Survivor group leader Chung had published a book in 1994 about the events of 1950 which raised awareness inside South Korea.[5]:128 In 1998, the U.S.-based news agency Associated Press, having begun months of investigative reporting on the allegations, reported on the rejection of the 1997 claim and interviewed 1st Cavalry Division veterans who were at No Gun Ri.[26]:269–284 On Sept. 29, 1999, after a year of AP internal struggle over releasing the article,[47] the AP published its investigative report on the incident, based on the accounts of 24 No Gun Ri survivors and corroborated by a dozen 7th Cavalry Regiment veterans. The journalists' research into declassified archives uncovered recorded instructions that front-line units shoot South Korean refugees approaching their positions.[nb 4] A liaison officer of the sister 8th Cavalry Regiment had relayed word to his unit from 1st Cavalry Division headquarters to fire on refugees trying to cross U.S. front lines. Major General William B. Kean of the 25th Infantry Division advised that any civilians found in areas supposed to be cleared by police should be considered enemies and “treated accordingly.”[nb 5] On the day the No Gun Ri killings began, the Eighth Army ordered all units to stop refugees from crossing their lines.[2][nb 6] The AP reported in subsequent articles that many more South Korean civilians were killed when refugee columns were strafed by U.S. warplanes in the war's first months and when the U.S. military blew up two Naktong River bridges packed with refugees on Aug. 4, 1950.[48] The AP's Sang-hun Choe, Charles J. Hanley, Martha Mendoza and Randy Herschaft were awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, along with 10 other major national and international journalism awards, for their reporting on No Gun Ri.[26]:278

The AP report, however, came under criticism in May 2000. U.S. News & World Report reported that one of the key AP witnesses, Edward L. Daily, was not present for the events he described.[49] Another of the AP's sources, Eugene Hesselman, stated that he overheard an order from company commander Captain Melbourne Chandler directing his men to fire on the refugees, but it was later discovered that Hesselman had been injured and evacuated before the incident took place.[29]:166 Another one of the AP's sources, Delos Flint, told the AP he witnessed U.S. forces attacking refugees in the rail tunnels; however, according to the 7th Cavalry's war diary, Flint had been medically evacuated before the event.[49] According to military historian and former 7th Cavalry officer Robert Bateman, who first uncovered discrepancies between Daily's testimony and official records, he informed the AP team of this weeks before their submission to the Pulitzer committee, but the AP team did not disclose this information.[50][51] Additional sources used by the AP later informed the U.S. Army's investigators and Bateman that they had been misquoted or their interviews had been taken out of context to support events that did not occur.[29]:xii A Pentagon spokesman said this would not affect the Army's No Gun Ri investigation, referring to Daily as "just one guy of many we've been talking to".[52] A May 2000 article in the New York Times weighed the criticism, citing the U.S. News and other reports, and concluded that "in the end, the crucial centerpiece of the A.P. report, the American soldiers killed at least 100 Korean civilians--possibly under direct orders--has been chipped but hardly shattered by the latest revelations".[53]

Still, additional evidence was made public. In June 2000, CBS News reported the existence of a U.S. Air Force memo from July 1950 in which the operations chief in Korea said that the air force was strafing refugee columns approaching U.S. positions at the army's request.[54][nb 7] A navy document later emerged in which pilots said that the army had told them to attack any groups of more than eight people in South Korea.[55]:81[nb 8]

U.S. and South Korean military investigations[edit]

In March 1999, six months before the AP story was published, the U.S. Army said in private correspondence it had looked into the No Gun Ri allegations and "found no information to substantiate the claim" in the operational records of the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry divisions, the same records in which the AP journalists earlier found directives to fire on civilians. The letter from an army official was sent to the U.S. National Council of Churches, which had requested an inquiry on behalf of the Korean National Council of Churches.[26]:275–276[nb 5]

After the publication of the AP report, Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered Army Secretary Louis Caldera to initiate an investigation. The Seoul government also ordered an investigation, proposing the two inquiries conduct joint document searches and joint witness interviews. The Americans refused.[56]

In the ensuing 15-month probes, conducted by the U.S. Army inspector general's office and Seoul's Defense Ministry, interrogators interviewed or obtained statements from some 200 U.S. veterans and 75 Koreans. The army researchers reviewed 1 million pages of U.S. archival documents.[3]:i-ii The final weeks were marked by press reports from Seoul indicating sharp disputes between the U.S. and Korean teams.[5]:168[57]

On January 11, 2001, the two governments issued their reports. The U.S. report concluded the U.S. military had killed "an unknown number" of South Korean refugees at No Gun Ri with "small-arms fire, artillery and mortar fire, and strafing that preceded or coincided with the NKPA's advance and the withdrawal of U.S. forces in the vicinity of No Gun Ri during the last week of July 1950," but no orders were issued to fire on the civilians, and the shootings were the result of a perceived enemy threat.[3]:x–xi Retired marine lieutenant general, Bernard E. Trainor, an investigation adviser, described the events as "an act of desperation by frightened, green troops who acted out of self-preservation" and "not the deliberate murder of innocents".[58] The U.S. investigators also noted concerns with the reliability of eyewitness accounts. Memories of traumatic events are known to be influenced by factor such as stress, age at the time of the event and at the time of recall, passage of time since the event, bias and witness contamination, as was shown with the AP’s key eyewitness Edward Daily and the American and Koreans who stated that they remembered him being present.[3]:114–119

On the day the US Army No Gun RI Report came out, then-President Bill Clinton issued a statement declaring, "I deeply regret that Korean civilians lost their lives at No Gun Ri in late July, 1950", but did not acknowledge wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. Army.[59][nb 9] Clinton later told reporters "The evidence was not clear that there was responsibility for wrongdoing high enough in the chain of command in the army to say that, in effect, the government was responsible."[60]

The U.S. offered a $4 million plan for a memorial at No Gun Ri and scholarship fund, but not the individual compensation survivors demanded.[61] The survivors later rejected the plan because the memorial would be dedicated to all the war's South Korean civilian dead rather than just the No Gun Ri victims.[62]

South Korean investigators acknowledged a lack of documentation of specific orders at No Gun Ri to shoot refugees. However, they pointed out gaps in U.S.-supplied documents, including in the 7th Cavalry's journal, or communications log, for July 1950, the crucial document that would have carried No Gun Ri orders. It was missing from its place at the National Archives.[63]:14[64]

The South Koreans’ final report referred to testimony from five former air force pilots that they were directed to strafe civilians during this period, and from 17 veterans of the 7th Cavalry that they believed there were orders to shoot the No Gun Ri refugees. The Koreans noted that two of the veterans were battalion radiomen and, as such, were in an especially good position to know which orders had been relayed.[16]:100–101[63]:176[65] “We believe there was an order to fire,” said Oh Young-ho, the South Korean prime minister’s national security director.[66]

Former U.S. congressman Pete McCloskey of California, the only one of eight outside advisers to the U.S. inquiry to write a detailed analysis afterward, agreed with the Koreans, saying the finding that there was no order to shoot and a suggestion that the refugees were not intentionally strafed were “a glaring falsity” and “so misleading as to suggest a deliberate whitewash.”[67] He counted nine enlisted men and one officer as having testified to having orders to shoot.[68]

Surviving documents said nothing about infiltrators at No Gun Ri, even though they would have been the 7th Cavalry's first enemy killed-in-action in Korea. However, several of the battalion soldiers interviewed said their unit was returning hostile fire from the tunnels.[3]:120,x The Korean survivors, by contrast, stated there were no infiltrators in their group, and the South Korean investigative report, arguing the illogic of trapped infiltrators firing on the surrounding battalion, doubted that such a scenario took place.[37]:83

Writing to the army inspector general's office after issuance of its report, American lawyers for the survivors said that whether the 7th Cavalry troops acted under formal orders or not, "the massacre of civilian refugees, mainly the elderly, women and children, was in and of itself a clear violation of international law for which the United States is liable under the doctrine of command responsibility and must pay compensation".[69] Four years later, in 2005, the South Korean government’s victims review committee, citing the laws of war and international humanitarian law, concluded, "The United States of America should take responsibility for the No Gun Ri incident."[5]:119

Additional criticism of the U.S. investigation[edit]

A joint U.S.-South Korean "statement of mutual understanding"[70] issued with the separate 2001 investigative reports did not include the assertion that no orders to shoot refugees were issued at No Gun Ri.[55]:94 But that remained a central "finding"[3]:xiii of the U.S. report itself, a report that journalists and scholars subsequently noted either did not address or presented incomplete versions of key declassified documents, some previously reported in the news media.

In this excerpt from a July 25, 1950, memo, the U.S. Air Force operations chief in Korea, Col. Turner C. Rogers, reports U.S. warplanes are strafing South Korean refugees at the U.S. Army's request because of reports of North Korean infiltrators disguising themselves as civilians. The army's 2001 investigative report on the No Gun Ri refugee massacre excluded this passage from its description of the memo. Full text.[nb 10]

News reports pointed out that the U.S. review, in describing the July 1950 Air Force memo, did not acknowledge it said refugees were being strafed at the army's request.[3]:98[60][71][nb 10] Later research found such U.S. air attacks on refugees were common in mid-1950.[72] The report did not address the commanding general’s July 26, 1950, instruction in the 25th Infantry Division saying civilians in the war zone would be considered unfriendly and shot.[3]:xii-xiii[16]:99[60][nb 5] In saying no such orders were issued at No Gun Ri,[3]:xiii the army did not disclose that the 7th Cavalry log, which would have held such orders, was missing from the National Archives.[64]

After the army issued its report, it was learned it also had not disclosed its researchers' discovery of at least 14 additional declassified documents showing high-ranking commanders ordering or authorizing the shooting of refugees in certain areas in the Korean War's early months,[55]:85 such as communications from 1st Cavalry Division commander Gay and a top division officer to consider refugees north of the firing line "fair game"[nb 11] and to "shoot all refugees coming across river".[nb 12]

In this excerpt from a 1950 letter to Dean Rusk, John J. Muccio, U.S. ambassador to South Korea outlined guidelines and polices agreed upon by US and ROK forces regarding the increasingly severe refugee crisis. The document detailed curfew policies, evacuation procedures and leaflet operations warning refugees fleeing south that they would be fired on if they advanced on US positions and ignored warning shots. The letter, dated July 26, the day the killings began at No Gun Ri, was deliberately omitted from the army’s 2001 investigative report.[nb 13][nb 14]

In 2005, American historian Sahr Conway-Lanz reported his discovery of a declassified document at the National Archives in which the United States Ambassador to Korea in 1950, John J. Muccio, notified the State Department on the day the No Gun Ri killings began that the U.S. military, fearing infiltrators, had adopted a policy of shooting South Korean refugee groups that approached U.S. lines despite warning shots.[16]:97–99[19]:58-59[nb 13][nb 14] Pressed by the South Korean government, the Pentagon eventually acknowledged it deliberately omitted the Muccio letter from its 2001 report.[73][74]

Aerial imagery[edit]

Still from USAF reconnaissance flight on Aug. 6, 1950, eight days after the killings. The lack of human remains under the bridge or mass graves in the vicinity led the U.S. Army to doubt the claims of hundreds of killed.

As part of the U.S. Army's 2001 report into the incident, thousands of feet of aerial film taken by USAF reconnaissance were also analyzed. Among the reconnaissance films, investigators discovered aerial images taken of the area on Aug. 6, 1950, 11 days after the events. These images were analyzed by two separate groups within the United States: the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NIMA). The AFIP has many experts who specialize in the location and identification of mass graves and have recently been used to locate these sites in places such as Bosnia. The NIMA and the AFIP saw no indication of scavenger activity on corpses, bodies being dragged off site, decomposition, bloodstained soil, mass graves or any photographic indication that a mass killing had taken place.[75] This analysis is thought to be significant because several Korean eyewitnesses have stated that mass graves were used to bury the dead and that they had returned to the bridge and saw “many dead decomposing bodies in the area and that some bodies had been temporarily buried,” and other Korean eyewitnesses stated that many of the bodies had not been buried until mid-August. According to the U.S. Army report, this suggested the No Gun Ri death toll was lower than Korean estimates.[3]:xiv

The 2001 South Korean investigative report drew primarily on accounts from survivors and nearby residents and said many bodies had been taken away by relatives or buried in soldiers' abandoned foxholes in the days following the killings, and some remained inside one underpass tunnel, under thin layers of dirt, out of sight of airborne cameras and awaiting later burial in mass graves.[63]:197,204However, the aerial footage analyzed by the U.S. showed fighting holes used by 2/7 Cavalry still intact on August 6, 1950. South Korean military specialists questioned the U.S. reconnaissance photos because they had been spliced and were not original copies. In response, the U.S. team verified that the reconstructed film matched the originals and made recommendations for a process to better document reconstruction efforts on damaged archival footage.[3]:App. C, Tab 2, 13

Archaeological survey[edit]

In July 2007, a team from Chungbuk National University began an archaeological excavation of the site to search for the physical remains of those killed at No Gun Ri. The team, led by professor of history of ancient art Park Seon-ju, planned on excavating several sites where eyewitnesses said they had buried the remains of the victims. A DNA analysis of the remains was to be performed to determine the identities of any remains.[76] By the end of August, the excavation had turned up nothing, though officials said that "the remains may have been damaged by heavy rains or taken away by their bereaved families".[77]

Later developments[edit]

Continuing appeals[edit]

Though often supported by South Korean politicians and newspaper editorials, the No Gun Ri survivors' repeated demands for a reopened U.S. investigation and compensation went unheeded. Meeting with South Korean officials in 2001, the survivors asked that their government seek action at the International Court of Justice at The Hague and in U.N. human rights forums, but were rebuffed.[78]:267,306 In 2002, a spokesman for South Korea's then-governing party called for a new U.S. inquiry,[79] but the defense ministry later warned the National Assembly that a reopened probe might damage U.S.-South Korean relations.[5]:202

The Memorial Tower in the No Gun Ri Peace Park, with its three- and two-dimensional depictions of the refugees of 1950, and two arches representing the No Gun Ri tunnel entrances. The 29-acre park, adjacent to the massacre site in Yongdong County in central South Korea, opened in October 2011. It also contains a museum and a peace education center.

The disclosure in 2007 that Pentagon investigators had omitted the Muccio letter from their final report, along with other incriminating documents and testimony, prompted more calls for action. Two leaders of the National Assembly appealed to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a joint investigation, but no U.S. congressional body ever took up the No Gun Ri issue.[80]

Memorial park[edit]

After the United States refused to offer compensation, and the survivors rejected the plan for a war memorial and scholarship fund, South Korea's National Assembly on February 9, 2004, adopted a "Special Act on the Review and Restoration of Honor for the No Gun Ri Victims." It established the committee that examined and certified the identities of dead and wounded, and it provided medical subsidies for surviving wounded. The act also envisioned a memorial park at the No Gun Ri site, which had begun attracting 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a year. The 29-acre (12-ha.) No Gun Ri Peace Park, built with $17 million in government funds and featuring a memorial, museum and peace education center, opened in October 2011.[5]:219,190,311–312[81] A publicly financed No Gun Ri International Peace Foundation also sponsored an annual peace conference, a No Gun Ri Peace Prize and a summer peace camp at the park for international university students.[78]:19

No Gun Ri in culture[edit]

In South Korea, the No Gun Ri story inspired works of nonfiction, fiction, theater and other arts. In 2010, a major Korean studio, Myung Films, released a No Gun Ri feature film, A Little Pond, written and directed by Lee Saang-woo and featuring Song Kang-ho, Moon So-ri and other Korean stars who donated their work. Besides commercial release in South Korea, the movie was screened at international film festivals, including in New York and London.[82] In 2006, artist Park Kun-woong and Chung Eun-yong published Nogunri Story, Volume 1; Recollecting That Summer Day, a 612-page graphic narrative that told the story through thousands of drawings. The Korean-language work, based on Chung Eun-yong's 1994 book, was also published in translation in Europe.[83] In the United States, No Gun Ri was a theme of four English-language novels, including the National Book Award finalist Lark & Termite of 2009, by Jayne Anne Phillips.[84]

Coincidentally, a war film released in 1952, One Minute to Zero, features a climactic scene of American armed forces reluctantly firing upon on a column of civilian refugees because North Korean soldiers are hiding among them to infiltrate behind American lines.[85]

Truth and Reconciliation Commission[edit]

The 1999 No Gun Ri articles prompted hundreds of South Koreans to come forward to report other alleged incidents of large-scale civilian killings by the U.S. military in 1950–1951, mostly air attacks. In 2005, the National Assembly created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Republic of Korea to investigate these, as well as other human rights violations in southern Korea during the 20th century. The commission's docket eventually held more than 200 cases of what it described as "civilian massacre committed by U.S. soldiers".[86]:288,294

By 2009, the commission's work of collating declassified U.S. military documents with survivors' accounts confirmed eight representative cases of what it found were wrongful U.S. killings of hundreds of South Korean civilians, including refugees crowded into a cave attacked with napalm bombs, and those at a shoreline refugee encampment deliberately shelled by a U.S. warship.[87][88][89]:118–119[90]:121

The commission alleged that the U.S. military repeatedly conducted indiscriminate attacks, failing to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.[89]:106 In its most significant finding, the commission also confirmed that South Korean authorities had summarily executed thousands of suspected leftists in South Korea – possibly 100,000 to 200,000 – at the outbreak of the war, sometimes with U.S. Army officers present and taking photographs.[88]

Of all American wars, the Korean conflict is believed to have been the deadliest for civilians as a proportion of those killed, including North Korean non-combatants killed in extensive U.S. Air Force bombing of North Korea, and South Korean civilians summarily executed by the invading North Korean military.[86]:109 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the Seoul government negotiate with the United States for reparations for large-scale civilian killings by the U.S. military.[89]:49 This did not occur. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Stanley Roth was quoted as saying in Seoul at the outset of the No Gun Ri investigation in 1999 that the United States would consider investigating any similar Korean War killings that came to light.[91] The 1999-2001 investigation was the last conducted by the United States.[55]:x

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Eighth U.S. Army, was composed of E, F, G, and H Companies
  2. ^ Hague Convention. 1907. Convention (IV) respecting the laws and customs of war on land, Article 46. The Hague, Netherlands. Retrieved February 14, 2012
  3. ^ U.S. War Department (1940). Rules of Land Warfare. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 6. 
  4. ^ Archives are maintained by the U.S. National Archives#National Archives at College Park. For these purposes, mostly at College Park, Maryland facility
  5. ^ a b c The directives:
  6. ^ "File:No Gun Ri 07 - Eighth Army 26 July - Stop all refugees.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  7. ^ Fifth Air Force, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; Memo from Col. Turner C. Rogers noting the policy of strafing refugees.
  8. ^ USS Valley Forge operations report, U.S. Naval Historical Center
  9. ^ Clinton, William J. 2001. Statement on the Korean War incident at No Gun Ri Washington, D.C.: Presidential Papers, Administration of William J. Clinton. 11 January. Retrieved January 14, 2012
  10. ^ a b "File:No Gun Ri 04 - USAF 25 July - Memo tells of policy to strafe refugees.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  11. ^ "File:No Gun Ri 17 - Maj. Gen. Gay 29 August - Refugee are fair game.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  12. ^ "File:No Gun Ri 15 - 8th Cavalry 9 August - Shoot all refugees.jpg". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  13. ^ a b "File:No Gun Ri 06a - Muccio letter 26 July - Decision to shoot refugees.png". Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  14. ^ a b "File:No Gun Ri 06b - Muccio letter 26 July - Decision to shoot refugees.png". Wikimedia Commons. 2012-01-14. Retrieved 2012-08-29. 


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Further reading[edit]

  • Bateman, Robert. No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident. Stackpole Books. 2002. ISBN 0811717631.
  • Berman, Stacie; Cohen, Robert (2014). "War Crimes in Global Perspective: From the Eastern Front to No Gun Ri". In Turk, Dull, Cohen, Stoll. Teaching Recent Global History. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415897082. 
  • Choi, Suhi (2014). Embattled Memories: Contested Meanings in Korean War Memorials. Reno: University of Nevada Press. ISBN 978-0874179361. 
  • Choi, Suhi (January 2011). "Communicating Trauma: Female Survivors' Witnessing the No Gun Ri Killings". Qualitative Inquiry 17 (1). ISSN 1077-8004.
  • Choi, Suhi (Fall 2008). "Silencing Survivors' Narratives: Why Are We Again Forgetting the No Gun Ri Story?". Rhetoric & Public Affairs 11 (3): 367–388.
  • Cumings, Bruce (1990). The Origins of the Korean War, Volume 2: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02538-X.
  • Cumings, Bruce (2010). The Korean War: A History. New York: Modern Library, Random House. ISBN 978-0679643579. 
  • Dudden, Alexis (2008). Troubled apologies among Japan, Korea and the United States. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231141765. 
  • Hanley, Charles J. (December 2010). "No Gun Ri: Official Narrative and Inconvenient Truths". Critical Asian Studies 42 (4). doi:10.1080/14672715.2010.515389.
  • Hanley, Charles J., and Mendoza, Martha (Fall 2000). "The Bridge at No Gun Ri: Investigative Reporting, Hidden History and Pulitzer Prize". The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 5 (4). ISSN 1081-180X.
  • Jager, Sheila Miyoshi (2013). Brothers at War: the unending conflict in Korea. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 9780393068498
  • Kirk, Donald (2009). "South Korea". In Forsythe, David P. Encyclopedia of Human Rights 3. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195334029. 
  • Kim, Dong-Choon (2009). The Unending Korean War: A Social History. Larkspur, California: Tamal Vista Publications. ISBN 978-0-917436-09-3.
  • Kim, Dong-Choon (December 2004). "Forgotten war, forgotten massacres---the Korean War (1950-1953) as licensed mass killings". Journal of Genocide Research 6 (4): 523–544. doi:10.1080/1462352042000320592. 
  • Kim, Ki-jin (2006). The Korean War and Massacres. Seoul: Blue History. (In Korean, with 260 pages of English-language archival material.) ISBN 89-91510-16-7.
  • Kuehl, Dale C. "What happened at No Gun Ri? The challenge of civilians on the battlefield". U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. June 6, 2003. Retrieved February 10, 2012. Biblioscholar (2012). ISBN 1249440270
  • Noble, Harold Joyce (1975). Embassy at War. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95341-1.
  • Ryoo, Maj. Moo-Bong, Republic of Korea Army (May 2001). "No Gun Ri Incident: Implications for the U.S. Army". Monograph, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Biblioscholar (2012). ISBN 1288290934.
  • Sinn, Donghee (May 2010). "Room for archives? Use of archival materials in No Gun Ri research". Archival Science 10 (2). doi:10.1007/s10502-010-9117-y.
  • Young, Marilyn B. (2002). "An Incident at No Gun Ri". In Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century. New York: The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-654-0.
  • Young, Marilyn (2002). "Remembering to forget". In Bradley, Mark Philip; Petro, Patrice. Truth claims: representation and human rights. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813530512. 

External links[edit]