Captured North Korean document describes mass killings by U.S. troops

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Captured North Korean document describes mass killings by U.S. troops

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Doc: 00308586


Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer)
Martha Mendoza (Associated Press Writer)

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Randy Herschaft (Associated Press Investigative Researcher)

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Copyright 2000 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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A captured North Korean document claiming U.S. soldiers shot and killed South Korean refugees was turned over to the American high command almost immediately after the incident in the early days of the Korean War.
The North Korean document, dated Aug. 2, 1950, and translated by the U.S. Army within a few weeks of its capture, used its description of the events to whip up sentiment against U.S. forces.
The document was obtained by The Associated Press and is being studied by Pentagon officials investigating allegations of the attack on civilians at No Gun Ri in late July, 1950, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
At least 41 copies were made of one of the translations at the time, and, according to its distribution list, were sent to all three branches of the military as well as the Army's assistant chief of staff for intelligence in Washington, D.C.
The captured document was a report to commanders urging that North Korean propaganda officers make sure that all communist soldiers in the field knew about the alleged American actions. The document was contained in one of 20 bulletins of captured documents circulated to U.S. military commanders in July and August 1950.
The captured document identified the site of the killing as a tunnel near Yongdong, which is eight miles from No Gun Ri. North Korean newspaper reports from the time, containing similar details to those in the captured document, named No Gun Ri as the site of the killings.
AP was unable to learn whether the allegations in the captured document were ever investigated by U.S. authorities. At the time, the American military was in a chaotic retreat from communist forces; the document itself contained language that may have been dismissed as propaganda; and U.S. investigators had orders to focus on atrocities committed by North Koreans against U.S. troops.
Pentagon investigators launched an inquiry into the events at No Gun Ri after AP reported on the killings last year. The source close to the U.S. investigation said the document is significant because it is the first evidence that the U.S. high command received an account of a mass killing in the vicinity of No Gun Ri shortly after it allegedly happened.
Army spokesman Maj. Tom Collins said he would not discuss the document, nor any aspect of the investigation, until the inquiry is completed.
In Seoul, a source close to a separate investigation of No Gun Ri, by the South Korean government, said investigators there had also obtained the North Korean document.
AP's original report cited dozens of ex-GIs and South Korean survivors as saying a 1st Cavalry Division unit killed a large number of civilian refugees in and around a railroad trestle's underpasses at No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul, the South Korean capital, between July 26 and July 28, 1950. Korean survivors estimated 300 civilians were killed while ex-GIs estimated 100, 200 or hundreds died. About 100 refugees died in a strafing by U.S. warplanes that preceded the shootings, survivors said.
AP obtained two translations of the North Korean document. One, which went to the U.S. Army's Far East Command as well as the Army in Washington, says 2,000 Koreans were killed in the tunnel. The other translation, which went to the 1st Cavalry Division headquarters in Korea, says 100 were killed.
The original document in Korean was not attached to the translations found in the U.S. National Archives, and it could not be determined if the discrepancy in numbers was based on a mistranslation.
The AP's research in the U.S. National Archives and elsewhere has found no specific mention of No Gun Ri in U.S. military reports, nor any sign that an investigation was conducted at the time. The captured North Korean document does not mention No Gun Ri by name, but the location -- near Yongdong -- and details of the killings match the No Gun Ri circumstances.
For example, the document refers to bodies in a "tunnel." South Korean survivors have shown investigators the tunnel where they say the shooting occurred.
In addition, the survivors have also described hiding under the dead to escape the bullets. The document echoes their account:
"There were approximately 10 persons who had lain under the dead for four or five days and were finally able to escape. Those 10 escapees, with tears in their eyes, asked us to get revenge for their treatment."
The document, titled "Cultivation of Hatred to Obtain Revenge," also speaks of another killing, of an unknown number of civilians, in a railroad tunnel in the town of Yongdong. Those refugees were strafed by planes during the day and shelled by artillery at night, it said.
In all, the document alleges the enemy" had "executed" 11,148 civilians in a dozen locations.
The captured communication was signed by two North Korean officers and urged "all units" to use the information for propaganda and to inform their soldiers that the Americans "are performing the barbaric act of killing civilians." This would "cause the soldiers to feel that it is their duty to fight and liberate their people, and by this means to stir up hatred for the enemy and completely destroy it."
The North Korean army report was seized by a 1st Cavalry Division unit on Aug. 15, 1950, 17 days after division troops pulled back from No Gun Ri.
A U.S. translator's note on the back of one translation said the documents were a "reflection upon the poor morale throughout the NK (North Korean) Command and also the fact that they are experiencing difficulty in controlling their men."
The 1st Cavalry Division's information officer from those days, retired Col. Harold D. Steward of San Diego, said he does not remember that particular captured document, but he said such a document would have been distributed to senior officers.
"Something like that would have gone to the division general staff and probably major unit commanders, and would have been part of the daily intelligence briefing for Gen. Gay," he said. The general staff of colonels and majors oversaw the division's operations. Maj. Gen. Hobart R. Gay, who died in 1983, was the division commander.
Five copies of one translation were sent to the intelligence section at the 8th Army, headquarters for the entire warfront, according to notations on one of the translations.
After hearing what the North Korean report said, a division intelligence officer from those days told the AP such a report should have prompted an investigation.
"It seems to me an inquiry would be made, probably by the inspector general, or they would have called on us," retired Col. Louis B. Trevathan of Santa Fe, N.M., said, referring to his counterintelligence unit within the division's "G-2" intelligence section.
Trevathan said he does not remember being asked to deal with such a document.
He also said some division officers might have viewed the information as unimportant.
"At that time there was so much confusion and lack of reinforcements and this sort of thing that we were hanging on by our fingernails at best," he said.
Inspector-general reports for August 1950 show that 1st Cavalry Division investigators were involved in other issues, such as the allegations that North Korean soldiers had killed about 36 American prisoners of war in a single incident.
Several North Korean journalists advancing with their army filed reports about American shootings of refugees at No Gun Ri.
In one, dated Aug. 19, 1950, reporter Chun Wook of the Cho Sun In Min Bo newspaper wrote that North Korean troops moving into the No Gun Ri area "were encountered with indescribably gruesome scenes under the railway tunnels and in nearby fields. ... About 400 bodies of old and young people and children covered the scene so that it was difficult to walk around without stepping on corpses."
Professor Sunjoo Pang, a South Korean historian who is researching No Gun Ri for a magazine and who is an expert on captured North Korean documents, cites four North Korean news reports and other documents that refer to killings at a tunnel near Yongdong, all similar in detail to the captured document.

Original Format

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Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer) and Martha Mendoza (Associated Press Writer), “Captured North Korean document describes mass killings by U.S. troops ,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed August 5, 2020,