Doubts About a Korean 'Massacre'
American soldiers allegedly slaughtered hundreds of innocent refugees at a place called No Gun Ri. A new review of the facts challenges that claim
Documentary information is not infallible, and certainly not in times of war. But the apparent discrepancy in Daily's case is such that even the AP reporters who worked on the No Gun Ri story now harbor some doubt about Daily's story. "I have a gut feeling that there is something wrong," said Hanley, who interviewed Daily at length, "that he phonied up somewhere. But I've got to believe he was at No Gun Ri." Because of the "density of the detail" Daily provided about the shooting and the screaming of the refugees as they clawed for cover, Hanley explained, he finds it "impossible to believe" that Daily fabricated his account of No Gun Ri. "The man," Hanley says, "has a great memory." The statements Daily has made to reporters about the alleged massacre are an important part of the investigation being conducted by the Army inspector general. Investigators want to know whether Daily fabricated part or all of his account.
That there is confusion about what happened at No Gun Ri is understandable. The Korean peninsula was in chaos at the time. Tens of thousands of South Koreans were fleeing advancing North Korean forces. North Korean infiltrators had been discovered among the refugees. American forces, as a result, kept their weapons trained on the streams of refugees, and some were shot. Adding to the tension was the fact that the American units--and particularly the 7th Cavalry, the storied regiment of George Custer and Little Bighorn--were largely untested. Many of the troops were no more than frightened teenagers with no combat experience, led by too few battle-tested officers and sergeants. All the elements of tragedy, in other words, were at hand.
But how many refugees were killed at No Gun Ri? And did any American officer or sergeant issue an order to fire on unarmed women, children, and elderly? Norman Tinkler, the 2nd Battalion machine-gunner who told the AP that his unit "annihilated" the refugees at No Gun Ri, stands by his story. Contacted by U.S. News, Tinkler said he fired a single 250-round belt from his .30-caliber gun into the tunnels sheltering the refugees, but he has no idea how many were hit. The firing, Tinkler said, lasted no more than 30 seconds. Tinkler emphasized that he never received an order telling him to fire. "Refugees came through our positions the day before and pulled pins and threw three hand grenades at our guys. I wasn't going to let them get near me," Tinkler told U.S. News. ". . . 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."
Morning report. Of the dozen veterans cited by the AP as witnesses of or participants in the massacre, only one, Cpl. Eugene Hesselman, is quoted as having received orders to fire. Several unnamed veterans whose accounts were paraphrased in the AP account said that Capt. Melbourne Chandler spoke with superior officers by radio, then instructed machine gunners from H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, to set up on either side of the railway culvert, where the refugees had sought shelter, and open fire. "Chandler said, `The hell with all those people. Let's get rid of all of them,' " Corporal Hesselman told the AP. Chandler is dead. But Army records suggest that Hesselman, like Daily, may not have been at No Gun Ri on the day in question. The daily "morning report" from H Company, 2nd Battalion, obtained from the Army's Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, shows that Hesselman was transferred from No Gun Ri on July 26. The July 27 morning report, typically filed at 8 a.m. each day, places Hesselman at the 15th Medical Clearing Battalion, some 25 miles away from No Gun Ri. The morning report is considered the most accurate record of where and when a soldier served. The H Company morning report for July 27, 1950, states that Hesselman was transferred on July 26 after sustaining an unspecified wound during a small-weapons skirmish with North Korean forces. Hesselman told the AP he was offered a medical evacuation after being wounded in the hand but decided to remain on the front lines. Army officials who reviewed the July 27 morning report told U.S. News that Hesselman almost certainly had been removed from No Gun Ri before noon on the date of the alleged massacre. Army units in Korea seldom traveled the unlit, refugee-choked roads at night, these officials say. Hesselman, the Army officials say, was therefore either en route to the 15th Medical Clearing Battalion or already there at the time the alleged massacre at No Gun Ri occurred. Hesselman failed to respond to repeated telephone inquiries or to a detailed letter sent to his home seeking comment on his account to the AP.