Pentagon officials confirm Korea episode as magazine challenges 3 veterans

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Pentagon officials confirm Korea episode as magazine challenges 3 veterans

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Doc: 00177345

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The Associated Press

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2000-05-13

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Copyright 2000 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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The New York Times reported Saturday that Army investigators had confirmed the central finding of an Associated Press report into the killing of civilians by U.S. forces during the Korean War, even as U.S. News & World Report questioned three U.S. veterans who said they witnessed the episode.
AP said it stood behind its 1999 story, and two historians told The Washington Post that they believed a mass killing had occurred. The Times cited senior Defense officials saying that an Army investigation "has confirmed the central element of the (AP) report" that American troops fired on refugees near the hamlet of No Gun Ri during a chaotic period early in the war.
The published reports came after defense officials said the Army would not complete its review next month as previously scheduled. Army officials had told reporters they have been unable so far to determine whether U.S. soldiers were acting under orders when they fired on civilians at No Gun Ri.
U.S. News asserted it had obtained new information raising doubts about whether three of the soldiers who described the killings were actually present at No Gun Ri. Other soldiers, U.S. News said, claimed their statements had been misconstrued.
In its story, AP quoted a dozen U.S. veterans as saying at least 100 South Koreans, many of them women and children, were shot to death under a railroad bridge at No Gun Ri. In important respects, their accounts matched the claims of Korean survivors, who estimated as many as 300 civilians were shot to death following an aerial strafing in which 100 others died.
The story was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and other top awards.
Executive editor Jonathan Wolman said AP stands by its account.
"The story of No Gun Ri is a complicated and important one, and we've always felt it deserves full scrutiny," he said. "Our story was based on many interviews and material from military archives, and we're confident the central information will be borne out by investigators."
In its report Saturday, The New York Times said Army investigators had confirmed that American troops fired on refugees resulting in what the Pentagon called "the tragic death of hundreds of civilians."
The episode occurred as refugees approached U.S. lines near the village of No Gun Ri in the fifth week of the Korean War.
The AP was making public additional details Saturday from its reporting in responding to suggestions in U.S. News that the presence at No Gun Ri of ex-GI eyewitnesses Delos Flint and Eugene Hesselman was questionable.
The new material, given to U.S. News by the AP but omitted from the magazine's article, concerns the dates on which two veterans _ Flint of Clio, Mich., and Hesselman of Fort Mitchell, Ky. _ were wounded in July 1950.
The magazine said the 7th Cavalry Regiment's "war diary" reported Flint was wounded and evacuated on July 25, the day before the No Gun Ri killings began. He could not have witnessed the bloodshed, it said.
Although that document says he was wounded that day, it does not say he was evacuated, the AP noted. Moreover, the usually reliable company "morning reports" show that Flint was wounded, and apparently evacuated, the next day, July 26, the day of the killings. Flint has graphic memories of that day, when he told the AP he rejected orders to fire on "civilians just trying to hide."
U.S. News also said Hesselman was wounded and evacuated before the No Gun Ri shootings. But his company's morning report shows he also was wounded on July 26, the day of the killings, when he says he was lightly wounded by shrapnel, had his hand bandaged and declined medical evacuation.
Moreover, the AP noted, the regimental diary lists Hesselman as wounded on yet another day, July 28, further confounding any effort 50 years later to find a definitive timeline from paperwork compiled in the chaos of war.
Hesselman, like Flint and other veterans, spontaneously recounted details and vivid images from the No Gun Ri episode when first contacted by the AP.
In investigating the No Gun Ri allegations, AP's research first pinpointed which U.S. units were in the area, and its reporters then traced veterans of those units, contacting them independently and without notice. Some, including Hesselman, said they had not talked with veterans of their units since the war.
At least a dozen confirmed that a large number of civilians were killed at No Gun Ri. Still other ex-GIs spoke more vaguely about civilians being shot around that time and place. Many were shown photos and confirmed the location.
The record of a third veteran quoted by the AP, Edward L. Daily of Clarksville, Tenn., is gaining the closest scrutiny. Daily was also quoted by U.S. News in an October 1999 article.
Daily's personnel file was destroyed in a records-center fire in 1973. According to the sketchy record reconstructed by the U.S. military, he was not in a 7th Cavalry Regiment company at No Gun Ri, as he says he was, but in a maintenance company miles to the rear.
Daily has shown an AP reporter documents, including a worn old Army driver's license, in support of his contention he was in the 7th Cavalry's H Company in July 1950. In addition, several veterans referred to Daily's presence in their AP interviews, including one who drew a diagram of where Daily's foxhole was in relation to his own.
The reassembled, partial record also indicates Daily did not receive a battlefield commission as a lieutenant, as he says he did, and it does not list the decorations for valor he displays in his home.
The Washington Post quoted West Point history instructor Maj. Robert Bateman, as saying he has documents showing that Daily, who claims to have machine-gunned refugees gathered in a railroad culvert, was not at the scene of the killings. In an e-mail, the Post said, Bateman said, "It turns out that the AP team fell for the biggest fake combat veteran extant."
Other historians, however, disagreed with Bateman about the significance of the latest reports. The Post quoted Allan Millett, an Ohio State University historian who is supervising Bateman's doctoral dissertation, as saying Bateman was "too quick to jump from Daily being a fraud to the idea that nothing happened."
Bruce Cumings, a University of Chicago expert who has written books on the Korean war, was quoted by the Post as saying he was "quite sure a major massacre happened there, whether or not an individual soldier got an order to fire."
The Pentagon has made no final public judgment on Daily's credibility.
Even if his No Gun Ri account proves unfounded, "it doesn't change the review, which is intended to find out what happened," Army spokesman Maj. Tom Collins told the Baltimore Sun. "Daily or whoever else is just a small part of a very large picture."

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The Associated Press, “Pentagon officials confirm Korea episode as magazine challenges 3 veterans,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed August 5, 2020, https://nogunri.rit.albany.edu/omeka/items/show/61.