AP responds to questions about prize-winning investigation

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AP responds to questions about prize-winning investigation

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Jerry Schwartz (Associated Press National Writer)

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Copyright 2000 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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The Associated Press on Monday responded to questions raised about its Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the killings of civilians by American soldiers at No Gun Ri in the chaotic opening days of the Korean War.
The 1999 story _ more than a year in the works _ quoted a dozen U.S. veterans who said a large number of civilian refugees, many of them women and children, were shot to death under a railroad bridge at the hamlet of No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950. The veterans' accounts confirmed those of two dozen South Korean survivors.
But in this week's issue, U.S. News & World Report raised questions about some aspects of the story. The magazine questioned the reliability of accounts by three former soldiers who said they were at No Gun Ri; it also quoted others who said their comments had been distorted by the AP or taken out of context.
Jonathan Wolman, the AP's executive editor, said all of those interviewed were quoted meticulously, many of them recorded or videotaped. And he said none of the material cited in these reports undermines any of the AP's major findings:
_The American unit was in the area of No Gun Ri on that date, despite denials by U.S. military officials.
_A large number of refugees were shot and strafed by American forces at No Gun Ri.
_Fearing enemy infiltration, military commanders had issued orders to units on the battlefield, authorizing soldiers to shoot refugees.
Brian Duffy, executive editor of U.S. News, acknowledged in an interview Monday that the magazine had not used a key document provided by the AP that undercut one of its challenges to the AP report.
Wolman said: "Even as we review discrepancies between several records and eyewitness accounts, we are confident of the accuracy and fairness" of the story's central findings.
"Our story, published almost eight months ago, was careful to reflect the contradictions, ambiguities and scarred memories that marked our attempts to reconstruct an event from 50 years ago," he said.
The AP story prompted an investigation by the Army. The New York Times quoted Defense Department officials over the weekend as saying that Army investigators had "confirmed the central element of the (AP) report." The Army report is not expected until at least this fall.
In its account, AP emphasized the difficulties of reporting a 50-year-old story. Memories conflict, accounts contradict each other, and gaps persist.
"AP's account was prepared with exhaustive care over more than a year, reported and re-reported, recorded and indeed in some cases videotaped so that the kind of questions now being raised could be fully addressed within AP's standards of accuracy and fairness and dedication to objectivity," Wolman said.
"Some of the new questions are based on records that themselves leave gaps or are subject to multiple interpretations."
Here are the issues raised by U.S. News, and the AP's response:
The AP cited 12 veterans and quoted nine as saying that they had either participated in the shootings or had witnessed them. U.S. News offered evidence that three of those veterans _ Edward Daily, Delos Flint and Eugene Hesselman _ were not there.
Hesselman, according to the magazine, was transferred out of the No Gun Ri area on July 26, the day of the shootings, based on the morning report of the unit, H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. The magazine quoted "army officials" as saying that he almost certainly had been moved before noon.
But Hesselman told AP in 1999 that he was lightly wounded that day and refused to be evacuated; the morning report does not say "evacuated." And another document, the regimental war diary, lists Hesselman as wounded in action on July 28.
U.S. News notes that AP quoted Hesselman as saying orders were issued to fire. Several veterans interviewed by the AP said such orders were issued at the scene, and the magazine fails to mention AP's disclosure that the U.S. commanders had issued general orders authorizing soldiers in the area to fire on refugees in some circumstances.
"No refugees to cross the front line. Fire everyone trying to cross lines. Use discretion in case of women and children," the 1st Cavalry Division's operations staff ordered division units on July 24, 1950.
A communications log for the 25th Infantry Division on July 26, 1950, notes that Maj. Gen. William Kean, commanding general of the division, "directed us to notify Chief of Police that all civilians moving around in combat zone will be considered as unfriendly and shot."
On July 27, Kean ordered: "All civilians seen in this area are to be considered as enemy and action taken accordingly."
Duffy said the reason U.S. News did not say AP "uncovered orders to fire on civilians was because we did not know whether those orders pertained to No Gun Ri, whether that was a front-line situation, and we found no one saying they received those orders."
In the AP story, Flint remembers being caught with other soldiers in the strafing and piling into a culvert with refugees. "Then, `somebody, maybe our guys, was shooting in at us,' he said. He and his comrades eventually slipped out."
U.S. News contends a regimental war diary entry indicates Flint was transferred out of No Gun Ri on July 25 _ a day before the shootings.
But a reading of that war diary says that he was wounded, but it does not say that he was evacuated. In addition, the more reliable company morning report for July 27, reporting on his wounds, shows he was still with the unit on July 26.
The war diaries were generally compiled from scattered sources, days or weeks later, at the rear; the morning report was written each day at the front.
The morning report "was not cited, but it should have been," Duffy conceded.
Much of the U.S. News story dwells on the account of Edward Daily. It was Daily who told the AP, "On summer nights when the breeze is blowing, I can still hear their cries, the little kids screaming."
Daily said he fired a machine gun at refugees huddled under the railroad trestle near No Gun Ri. But U.S. News quoted Army records as saying that Daily was not assigned to H Company, 2nd Battalion, until eight months after the shootings. In July 1950, he was assigned to the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group, which had just arrived in Korea and was 80 miles from No Gun Ri, the records indicate.
The problem is that Daily's files _ and those of many other veterans _ were destroyed in a fire at a government records center in St. Louis in 1973, and were later partly reconstructed.
When interviewed by the AP, Daily insisted that he was at No Gun Ri. As evidence, he offered a stamped and signed Army driver's license that puts him in H Co. in March 1950; a Christmas 1949 H Company menu that lists him with the company; a postmarked, faded letter to his mother in which he refers to his company commander as Capt. Chandler of H Company; an immunization record whose details strongly suggest he was in H Company in mid-1950.
In addition, several veterans referred to Daily's presence in the 2nd Battalion in the early days in Korea. U.S. News quoted others as saying they don't remember him among the 660 members of the battalion.
U.S. News says retired Col. John Lippincott never saw Daily; unsurprising, because while Daily was with H Company, Lippincott was with F Company.
U.S. News questioned Daily's credibility in other ways.
It noted the reconstructed record shows him discharged as a sergeant, "not as a captain as he had claimed." Daily says he was given an irregular battlefield commission, from sergeant to lieutenant, and was discharged as a first lieutenant, not a captain. Daily showed the AP what he said was his discharge, identifying him as a lieutenant.
The reconstructed file contains no actual discharge document.
U.S. News notes that Daily claimed major decorations for valor, but they are not reflected in his file.
The AP report did not mention Daily's medals, although an AP reporter saw a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart displayed in his home.
Military archivists say major awards are not written routinely into a reconstructed file because of the laborious research required. In addition, the reconstructed file does not list a Combat Infantryman's Badge for Daily, even though that file itself indicates he served two months with an infantry unit, H Company.
U.S. News also raised the subject of Daily's mental health. With his permission, the AP interviewed Daily's therapist, who said Daily's problems appeared to stem from the killing of civilians in Korea, at least in part.
"Serious questions involve veteran Ed Daily," said Wolman, the AP executive editor. "We spoke to soldiers who put him at the scene and have reviewed the documentation he offered for his role _ a dated driver's license listing his unit, a frayed letter to his mother, a Christmas menu with his name. If it turns out that he and those records deceived us, we will be extremely regretful, and saddened for him.
"But the tale of No Gun Ri does not fall on the words of Mr. Daily. He was first mentioned in the 56th paragraph of our story and only later became such a visible figure through followup reports, as the U.S. News story says."
U.S. News re-interviewed five veterans who were quoted in the AP story _ Robert Carroll, Herman Patterson, Jim Kerns, George Preece and Norman Tinkler _ who told the magazine that they felt they were ill-used by the AP.
"We reported what these veterans said to us," said U.S. News' Duffy. "Evidently they said something different to you. We certainly didn't put words in anyone's mouth. I don't know how we reconcile the different statements to you and to us."
_Patterson said he "told AP that when we were knocked back to the Naktong River a few days later it was damn near a massacre _ of us. Their story when it came out quoted me as saying that No Gun Ri was a massacre, and that was not what I said at all."
The actual quote from the AP's story was: "It was just wholesale slaughter." And the context makes it clear that he was not talking about a slaughter of U.S. troops at the Naktong:
"In the area of our first withdrawal, what we had to do, we had to kill 'em. It was just wholesale slaughter. Because we couldn't get them to get out of there. We couldn't see the enemy for the refugees. They gave them a certain amount of hours to get out. They didn't get out and we fired on them."
He also said: "We were instructed we were going to see guerrilla warfare, not armed, uniformed soldiers. How can we assume that all these people are civilians? I could see a lot of dead people. I thought at the time it was a wholesale slaughter."
And: "To protect your own you're going to annihilate that possibility. I don't mean they weren't armed. I don't think it was a slaughter without justification."
In a subsequent interview videotaped by Associated Press Television News, Patterson confirmed he saw civilians killed.
Q: "How many people do you think were killed down there?"
A: "I think the total tally at the end of it was 300."
Q: "These were, you're assuming there was enemy in there? Do you know?"
A: "I don't know for sure. There could have been, there could not have been. Me seeing them? I didn't see them. We received no fire from them."
Q: "Could you say that again? I didn't get it."
A: "We received no fire from that group of people, no enemy fire."
_According to U.S. News, Kerns expressed anger that the AP "used his words to support the notion that an ordered massacre occurred. 'Don't talk to me about no AP. Those people twisted my words,' he said. `When they phoned me after their story came out, I told them don't you call me no more.' "
AP correspondent Charles Hanley spoke, and dined, with Kerns after the story moved. He was friendly and specifically asked Hanley to thank co-writer Martha Mendoza.
Kerns told U.S. News: "I waved the refugees back. About then the airplanes began strafing and they ran into the tunnels. I fired about 40 feet over their heads. I didn't shoot anyone."
This gibes with what he told the AP. A machine gunner, he said he fired over the refugees' heads: "I would not fire into a bunch of women."
U.S. News quotes Kerns on the likely number of refugees in the tunnel. "There weren't over 125 people in there," he said. "You couldn't get more to fit in there with all their A-frames and baggage and carts."
The AP did not quote Kerns on the body count; other veterans spoke of 100, 200 or simply hundreds dead, while Koreans say 300 were killed.
_Carroll, too, told U.S. News that hundreds couldn't fit in the culvert: "You couldn't get that many in the culvert if you stack them five deep."
At no point in its story, however, does AP estimate on its own how many were present or were killed. In a recent test, several hundred South Korean soldiers were able to lie down in the twin underpasses.
U.S. News quotes Carroll as saying he told AP there was no order telling machine gunners to open fire on the refugees and none did.
In AP's story, Carroll is quoted on 2nd Battalion riflemen firing on refugees, and he remembers there were blanket orders to stop refugees. He told the AP that he left the scene after the riflemen fired and he could not describe what happened after that.
In a videotaped interview, Carroll gave APTN a dramatic account of the first fusillade of fire at the civilians while they were still up on the railroad tracks. He recalls rescuing a child.
"I went down there and there were Korean females with that medical team which wasn't ours ... I turned that little kid over to them and I shagged my fanny back" to the company command post.
_U.S. News quotes Tinkler as denying there were orders to fire.
"Refugees came through our positions the day before and pulled pins and threw three hand grenades at our guys," he told U.S. News. "I wasn't going to let them get near me. I was on a .30-caliber Browning water-cooled machine gun that fires 700 rounds a minute. I was located on the right side of the railroad tracks facing the bridge, between a quarter and a half-mile away. And yes, I fired at them. Nobody gave me orders. Nobody was there to give me any orders. There was just me and one other guy on this gun. Nobody else around. I saw maybe 150 refugees go in that bridge tunnel. I fired one belt, 250 rounds. I could see maybe a couple of feet of one edge of the tunnel and I aimed at that and moved the elevation knob up and down, ricocheting bullets into the tunnel."
AP never reported that Tinkler said he was following orders.
This is how the AP quoted Tinkler: "We just annihilated them."
In a later, videotaped interview he explained: "War is not just. There's things that goes on that we can't comprehend, but it has to be done. And it's the individual that has to make the decision. It's not run from Washington D.C. and a bunch of lawyers. Either shoot, stay alive, or die. That's all there was to it."
Q: "And you?"
A: "I shot. I didn't ask questions."
His claim to U.S. News of a grenade attack by refugees has not been supported by any other veteran or military document.
_U.S. News quotes Preece as saying that the story about a massacre is a "bunch of bull."
But this is what he said in a videotaped interview with the AP:
"They were chased down into that tunnel, all day and all night going into that tunnel ... we wanted to keep them off the road.... there was women, children, old men, old women."
Q: "And then an order came to fire on these people?"
A: "Yes, sir. I know the order was given for them to fire."
Q: "You saw bodies piled up. How many?"
A: "One hundred, 150, 200 ... I just don't think it was right to kill women and babies. We felt bad about it, but when you've got orders you've got to do what the uppers say. They'll get you for treason and everything else."
Another veteran _ not a witness _ also gave markedly different interviews to the AP and to U.S. News.
Jack Haskell, a retired major in the military police, told the magazine, "When this (AP) story broke, the whole thing surprised me. I couldn't believe it, and I guess I was right not to believe it. We had MPs everywhere ... They would have heard about something like this and gotten back to us."
But when AP interviewed Haskell, he said the MPs were not everywhere. His commanding officer, retired Col. Lou Mehl, and Haskell both said the 545th MP Company was pressed into service for reconnaissance duty at this time and was not patrolling the roads.
Haskell told AP: "The division ordered the MPs to break down into recon patrols. We were reconnoitering the left flank of the division."

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Jerry Schwartz (Associated Press National Writer) , “AP responds to questions about prize-winning investigation ,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed June 2, 2020, https://nogunri.rit.albany.edu/omeka/items/show/63.