PSPD in English Archive 2000-10-31   1617

Massacre of Villagers by the U.S. Soldiers during the Korean War

Massacre of Villagers by the U.S. Soldiers during the Korean War

On the Spot Investigation of June 2, 2000

by Oh Yeon HoV

It was around May of 1994 when I first heard of the No Gun Ri story. I had run into a novel titled 「Do You Know Our Agony?」. This Novel came as a shock to me.

Of course, the story was categorized as a novel, but it was shocking in that the content was about Korean civilians being massacred by American soldiers during the Korean War. I felt that this novel was not just something made up.

I had come to this conclusion because the author was a 73 year old man who had never written a novel before. It would hardly be possible for an old man as he to choose such a theme and ‘write a novel for a novel’.

Only a few days had past when I spoke to Mr Chung Eun Yong, the author. He happened to reside in Taejon. My first question was “Is it true?”

Now that I come to think about it, he was a real ‘reporter’. He had been actively working to tell the world the ‘news’ he had since 1960. However, the press of this land had not taken his news as ‘news’.

With this ‘reporter’, an on the spot investigation was taken on June 2, 1994. By the 18th of June 1994, the story of the No Gun Ri Massacre was revealed inside the pages of the July issue of ‘Mal’. The sub-title was ‘special report on the 44th anniversary of the Korean War- Who wants to go through another war like this?’ and the main title was ‘First testimony- the massacre of 300 villagers by the American soldiers.’

“Who wants to go through another war like this?” This is what the surviving villagers of Young Dong, Chung-buk Province say. War makes people into animals. It is the worst sin man can do. The massacre of No Gun Ri shows us why an anti-war, peace movement is needed. This case in particual shows what happens when foreign forces are included in a war.

Looking at the nuclear issue situation of North Korea, and how much the U.S is deeply involved, the No Gun Ri incident tells us that the only answer to the nuclear problem is to ‘talk about it and resolve our problems between ourselve s.’

As I prepare this book, I had thoughts of revising the contents. But many of my colleages at ‘Mal’ advised me not to change a letter and to print it the was it was. They said that this article would be the criteria on what AP would add on to their reports and also what the domestic press would add on to theirs.

This made sence, however, I must confess that the biggest reason for not revising the article and using the original was because I did not have the confidence to write it as I had 6 years ago. During that time, everything was fresh and pure. I wanted to dig out a great story that had been buried. I wanted to write an article based upon the 5 W 1H Priciple and leave it as a memorable mark in history. Today, the press is treating No Gun Ri as a merchandise. I did not want to polute the fresh and pure mind while competing with the press. So, once again, I read my article slowly and clearly. I felt the blood inside my body boil as it did before. The following is the main part of the article. The sub-title is also just the way it was.

On the spot investigation in 44 years, and the bullet marks on the bridge

The Kyungbu Railway is set crossing the village of No Gun Ri in Chungbuk Province. Trains pass every 5 minutes through this railway built in the Japanese colonial period.

There is also a overpass railway bridge in No Gun Ri. Each having a width of 5 meters, and a length of 20 meters, the two overpass bridges has hundreds of bullet marks on them. The sharply carved in marks are evidence of the shootings and the people who died screaming out in pain. This is the tragic place where the 300 villagers were led to and murdered for four days by American soldiers. However, after 44 years have past, the souls of those 300 villagers taken from the American army still do not rest. This was certainly a contrast to the enormous press coverage which the Kuchang Village Massacre, done by the South Korean Army, received. Not a page was left written about the No Gun Ri villagers and their death in the history books concerning the Korean War.

If it were not for one old man wishing to express how much he did not want a civil war with foreign forces involved, and how much he wanted to see the history of Korea written again, this incident would not have been revealed.

Last June, after passing the toll gates of Taejon, Chung Eun Young cried as he retold his story during our one hour drive to No Gun Ri.

“I lost my 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter along with relatives to the Americans soldiers. I lost a lot of relatives because the Chung family had been residing in this village for over 15 generations. After that day, I have been trying to tell this story, but because the social atmosphere made by the past government and press, I kept the secret to myself. I am now 73 years old and I feel that I cannot hold on to this story by myself.”

The villagers were taken by the American soldiers because they said, “ We will take you to a safe place”

As we arrived to the site, Chung and the survivors of the massacre started the on the spot investigation for the first time in 44 years.

July 25, 1950, the Young Dong region was full of cannon shot sounds from the fighting between the retreating US Army and the People’s Army who had just taken Taejon and was heading southward. The villagers from Im Gae Ri and Ju Gok Ri hid in the nearby hills as the warfront neared them.

Yang Hae Chan, a 53 year old committee member of the Young Dong Up Local council, tells us the tragedy that happened.

I was hiding inside one of the mineral mines with the villagers when my father, who had stayed behind the village, came up and told everyone come down as he said “The Americans are going to take us to a safe place.”

When we got back to the village, 3 or 4 soldiers formed one group and were searching through our houses. They were looking to see whether any one was hiding from them. I should have known what kind of people they were intruding our homes with their military boots. After their search was over, they made us gather in one area and had a Japanese translator tell us, “ We will take you to a safe place so follow us southward.” The village seniors who understood japanese talked it over and decided to trust and follow the American soldiers.

Around 60 houses existed in Im Gae Ri. If we were to give each family an average of 4 members, we would still have about 200 hundred people feeing under US army care. This was the same for the 300 villagers of Ju Gok Ri, the neighboring village. This was not all. Some 200 others from Taejon joined the group.

700 civilian refugees had started a grand journey to flee southward. Cows with rice bags, tools, blankets on them along with elderly people with children made things slow. This was not a small number and even the soldiers could not speed them up.

As evening neared, the refugees were stoped and told to go under the roadway hill near the riverside. Currently, this place is a military facility 1.5 kilometers away from the village.

Chung Gu Shik, now a 61 year old vineyard farmer, was only a 15 year old boy then.

“The American soldiers drove us down to the riverside and told us to keep our heads down or else they would shoot. I don’t know whether there was a battle going on with the People’s Army but it was very noisy with the sound of gun shots at that time. The mosquitos at that time made it worse. Nevertheless, we assured ourselves by thinking that after this evening is over everything would be alright because of the hope that the Americans would take us to a safe place. However, a bad feeling came when I saw a father and son shot down by an American soldier. By the next morning the boy was dead and the father was still holding on to what life he had left in him. He told his crying wife it was her destiny to go and live on. He made her go with the others while staying behind. But her destiny was not so true. She was shot and killed by American soldiers the very day.

They led us to the railway and a bomb was droped at us

The refugees got up to the roadway the next day and walked for about 4 kilometers when the tanks stopped and a stop order was given. The American soldiers pointed their rifles towards the railway. They ordered us to go on to the railway. The refugees were confused, but there was no other option.

After everyone got on the railway, 7 or 8 American soldiers started to check the baggages that were being carried. It was around 1 in the afternoon. The line waiting to be inspected was about 200 meters. As they were waiting, the refugees filled their stomach with what they had brought along.

“All that the refugees had with them were blankets and rice. We thought inspecting this was not a big deal. But all of a sudden, a soldier with a communications radio on his back transmitted something to somewhere and stoped the inspection and hurried away from us. We were all wondering why they were acting this way when all of a sudden, we saw a fighter jet plane fly over us and drop a bomb. when I woke up from the blast, there was something hanging over my back. I reached back to see what it was, I found that it was a cut-off head of a boy. The railway was bend as if steel chopsticks were bend by a person and everything was in chaos. Dead people, dead cows were laid here and there. The bombing lasted for over 20 minutes. Later on, machine guns were also fire d.”

Chung’s teeth were trembling as he looked at the restored railway. Trains passed this area as if they had no idea of what had happened in the past.

No one knows how many died on this railway, but a minimun of 100 people is what the survivors say.

Machine Guns fired on both sides to the villagers put under the overpass railway bridge.

Those who survived the bombing fled to an irrigation opening under the railway. Today, this place is filled with plants in the opening and would have been very difficult to find if not for the villagers. It was pitch dark inside.

The villagers who had survived asked, “Why are the American soldiers trying to kill us?” But no one was able to answer. 44 years has past and now, Chung Eun Yong answers with this suspicion.

“The U.S jet fighter plane flew right after the radio transmission was made. This shows the possibility of a planned attack. Then why did they do it over the railway? The answer is to rid both the villagers and the railway which could be used by the North Koreans.”

Some ask the question why the Americans would do this in broad daylight and that this must have been a mistake, but the story that follows makes all of these questions worthless.

This is the story of Park Sun Yong, wife of Mr. Chung.

She took injured her arm and put her son on her back, held her daughter with her other arm and fled to the opening of the irrigation hole which was only 2 meters in width. By that time, this place was already filled with many people. She felt as if death was coming to greet her.

Then all of a sudden, the bombings stopped and 4 American soldiers walked over to the hole opening.

They said in Japanese, “Now, we are really going to take you to a safe place. So come out. They said this with their guns pointed at us. How could we not come out? One of them must have been a medic, because he treated my arm and put a dressing over it. When people saw this, they thought that the bombing that had just happed was something of a mistake and now, they were really going to take us to a safe place.”

But this was just another to extend their murder plan.

The American soldiers did not take the refugees southward, but under an overpass railway bridge. They had put 400 of us in an area where there was hardly any room to move.

Then the Americans put up machine guns on each side of the hill overlooking the bridge sides. After that, they told us that if we moved even a footstep out of the bridge area, they would shoot and kill us.

“It was the middle of summer so people were thirsty. There was a little pond not far from where we were. Some, not being able to endure, tried to get a sip of water. Everyone who tried where shoe to death. But the shots were not only for those tried to come out. They fired at the people inside the bridge. Dead bodies started to pile up and people moved more and more inward. Once a mother stepped a little outside to catch some cool air for her baby, both were shot to death.”

The baby born under the bullet shots

Mr Yang, a villager who survived the massacre, says that war can break up even the instinctive love in a family.

“During our time under the bridge, one of our villagers, Mrs. Cho, gave birth to a baby on the second day under the bullets that came flying over. Mr. Cho had told his wife they had to escape. When the wife asked how they were going to escape with the baby, he said they had to leave the baby behind because the baby will get everyone caught and killed. The wife hesitated for a while, but left with her husband without further thought. No one seemed to care about the baby. This was not the only incident. Many husbands left their wives behind to escape. Park Sun Yong, thinking that she would die even if she did not escape, she took her injured body and put her son on her back and tried to escape leaving her dead daughter behind. She managed to escape from the bridge, but while escaping, the two legs of her son she was carrying on her back had been shot and torn off. After thinking she reached a safe area two hills away from the bridge, she treated her son. But then, an American soldier appeared in front of her. She begged not to shot, but he did. At first she thought she had died, but then she awoke to find that the bullet had gone through her stomach side and hit her son’s heart, killing him.

“ I lost my daughter under the bridge, and my son too while escaping. I felt as if I had lost everything.”

Park showed the shot wound. 44 years had passed and still it was a big wound- 4cm wide and 10 cm long.

By the time four days had passed under the bridge, all that were left under the bridge were exhausted women and children. Most of the men either died or succeeded in escaping. By then, the Americans came more closer to the bridge to shoot. There were probably 100 survivors left inside the bridge and half of them probably died from the close shots that day. The rest that died were not from shots but from shock and dehydration.

Why were they killed?

No one knows how many civilians were killed during the No Gun Ri Massacre. Survivors such as Chung Eun Yong and Park Sun Yong say about 500.

Even if we were to hold the minimum amount, 88 people would have died from the bombing. This is the statistics that was made from the people who confirmed the bodies. But in actuality, there were surely more than 88. There is certainly more confirming to be done. 8 people were even confirmed during this investigation. Chung recalls having seen many dead bodies without anyone to claim them.

“There must have been at least 200 refugees who came from Taejon. No one claimed these bodies for sure because the North Koreans buried them just anywhere they could after the Americans left.”

According to survivors’ testimonies, the minimum number of those killed was 200 and maximum would be 400.

The soldiers who were at No Gun Ri firing at that time was not the 24th division, but the 1st Calvalry Division who had just changed places with the 24th.

According to the book 「Korean War History」 at the Korean Military Academy, this is how they are described at that time.

The 1st Calvalry Division’s defense position was centered around the Young Dong area with the 1st Battalion of the 8th Regiment towards Taejon and the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Regiment towards the East Yong Dong area. The 1st Battalion retreated southward on the 23rd of July from the North Koreans and because the People’s army had closed of the escape route on the 24th, the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Regiment lost alot of lives on the 25th of July. What is interestingly linked with No Gun Ri, is what follows this description.

On the morning of the 26th of July, the 9th Regiment of the People’s Army made civilians stand in a horizontal line formation and walk towards a mine field. However, the 5th Cavalry took back this area on the 28th of July.

What we can guess strongly from this is that who ever was involved in the No Gun Ri Massacre, the soldiers must have either been the 1st Cavalry Division or the 5th Regiment. This is the matches description of the 5th Calvary “taking back” the area during the dates from July 26 to the 29th when the massacre occured.

Then, what could have occured? This history of the North Korean soldiers making civilians walk mine fields could have been a lie to cover up the massacre. There was no person in that area who testified that the history written in the book was the truth. This only gives more strength to Chung’s story.

Then why did the American soldiers kill innocent unarmed civilians?

Chung says “That answer is what I and my family have been trying find for over 44 years.”

“It may have been done out of revenge from the loss of battle they had with the North Koreans. Or it may have been orders to kill any suspicious civilian. Whatever the reason, they were not willing to risk leaving any evidence of what they had done. Including people.”

Chung’s 44 years of working to find the truth

On October 27, 1960, Chung submitted a lawsuit to the US Government asking to compensate for what they had done. No reply was given.

Recently, Chung has written a novel 「Do You Know Our Pain?」 which has caught attention. He is planning to ask for an investigation team from both the US and Korean governments to find out the truth.

“Money is not the purpose of all of this. Money cannot bring back the dead. What I truly want is to receive an official apology and an acknowledgement admiting the crime committed. Money, I think, is just a minimum way of showing compensation for the crime that has been made.”

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