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
On Sept. 29, 1999, the Associated Press published a lengthy story about a dozen American veterans who said they had either witnessed or participated in a massacre of South Korean refugees in the very early days of the Korean War. The AP report indicated that the shooting, which may have killed more than 200 South Korean refugees near the hamlet of No Gun Ri, came on direct orders from U.S. Army commanders. That would make the incident the second-largest reported killing of civilians by U.S. forces in the 20th century, after the slaughter of some 500 Vietnamese in the village of My Lai in 1968.
The allegations of a massacre at No Gun Ri were nothing new: Families of the alleged victims--and even some Koreans who claimed to have survived the shooting--had been accusing the American military of covering up a massacre there for years. And there is little doubt that something terrible did happen there--in the confusion of war, some refugees were shot by American soldiers.
What was new in the Associated Press story was the statements by the American soldiers and officers. Before the AP account, no American at No Gun Ri had ever spoken publicly about killing large numbers of refugees, seeing any of his colleagues do so, or receiving orders from higher-ups to kill innocent noncombatants. A review by U.S. News, however, raises substantial doubts about the accuracy of the new accounts. A dozen veterans were cited by the AP in its account, nine of whom were quoted. But military records and sources provide new evidence that three of the men quoted may not have been at No Gun Ri at the time of the alleged massacre. Five others, re-interviewed by U.S. News, do not support the thesis of the AP story. Of those, three said the statements they gave the wire service were misconstrued or taken out of context. A fourth veteran said there was some brief firing, possibly by a machine gun, and that there was not a large number of people in the culvert. The fifth vet said he fired his machine gun into the tunnel full of refugees but that no one ordered him to do so.
"These guys were inconsistent when we talked to them at the time," says Charles Hanley, one of the reporters on the AP team that conducted the investigation of No Gun Ri. "They were all over the map . . . but we have approaching 50 sources who confirm that a large number of civilians were killed by American forces at No Gun Ri." In a statement released last week after a Web site for veterans named Stripes.com posted a story questioning the AP's reporting on No Gun Ri, the wire service issued a statement saying that "we continue to report developments in this story as vigorously as the original accounts."
When the AP broke it, the No Gun Ri story generated enormous attention. Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered the Army to investigate to "determine the full scope of the facts surrounding press reports of civilian deaths" at No Gun Ri. The Army's inspector general launched an exhaustive investigation, which is still underway. And last month, the team of Associated Press reporters who broke the No Gun Ri story was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, journalism's highest honor.
What catapulted the No Gun Ri story into the journalistic stratosphere, however, was not the AP story or the accolades it received but the follow-up accounts by other news organizations. Many of these stories failed to reflect the ambiguities in the AP story. Assertions, in some of the follow-ups, took on the air of hard fact; the narrative line became more dramatic.
The principal source for many of these stories was Edward Daily. In the AP story, he was quoted as saying: "On summer nights when the breeze is blowing, I can still hear their cries, the little kids screaming." He added: "The command looked at it as getting rid of the problem in the easiest way. That was to shoot them in a group. Today," Daily concluded, "we all share a guilt feeling, something that remains with everyone."
Daily told the reporters following up on the AP account that he was a machine gunner with H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950, the day of the alleged massacre. Daily said he fired his .30-caliber machine gun at refugees huddled beneath an isolated railway trestle near No Gun Ri, possibly killing hundreds. In subsequent news accounts, Daily cast himself as a central figure at No Gun Ri. NBC's Dateline flew Daily to Korea to visit the No Gun Ri site. Daily told Tom Brokaw about receiving the order to fire on the refugees under the railroad trestle. "Just shoot them all," Daily quoted the order. Brokaw: "You heard that order?" Daily: "Yes, sir." Brokaw: "Kill them all?" Daily: "Yes, sir." In February, the Washington Post Magazine put Daily's picture on the cover and said he "was in charge of the lone machine-gun post" on one side of the railroad culvert. The Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News all published stories citing Daily's account of No Gun Ri.
Christmas dinner. But Army personnel records show that Daily was not at No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950; nor was he a machine gunner, as he claimed. The records, obtained by U.S. News, show that Daily was a mechanic with the Army's 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group from March 18, 1949, to March 16, 1951. On July 26, 1950, the Army records show, Daily and his unit were just arriving in Korea, at a little fishing village called Pohang, more than 80 miles away from No Gun Ri. Daily did serve a brief stint--54 days--in H Company, 2nd Battalion. But records show that that began on March 16, 1951--his last day with the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group--more than eight months after the alleged massacre at No Gun Ri. "To the best of my recollection, I served my whole time in H Company, 2nd Battalion, in Japan and Korea," Daily told U.S. News, when asked about the apparent contradiction. But the roster for the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Group's formal Christmas dinner in 1949 lists Edward Daily among the unit's 300 members at the time. Asked again about his assertion that he spent his entire tour of duty in Korea with the 2nd Battalion's H Company, Daily said: "My memory is that I was there at No Gun Ri and did what I said I did. But you know, I have been sick for years, I have been in therapy in the V[eterans] A[dministration]. It was my nightmares from Korea that cost me my job. I take three strong pills for mental illness."
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.
Another veteran cited by the AP as having witnessed the alleged events at No Gun Ri may also have been somewhere else at the time. Rifleman Delos Flint told the AP he piled into one of the two tunnels in the railroad culvert filled with refugees after being strafed by U.S. Air Force jets. In the tunnel, Flint told the AP, "somebody, maybe our guys, was shooting in at us." According to the 7th Cavalry's war diary, reviewed by U.S. News, Flint was transferred on July 25 from No Gun Ri, more than a full day before the alleged massacre. War diaries were updated sometimes days after events, typically at the regiment level, and can be inaccurate. Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the 7th Cavalry war diary and his statement to the AP, Flint told U.S. News, "My memory is not so good." The Army inspector general is also examining the accounts Hesselman and Flint provided to reporters, officials with knowledge of the inquiry say.
"No rumor, no scuttlebutt." Other veterans cited in the AP account say some of their statements were misused. Herman Patterson, a rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was quoted in the AP account as saying, "It was just wholesale slaughter." Interviewed by U.S. News, an angry Patterson denies that's what he said. "I told AP that when we were knocked back to the Naktong River a few days later, it was damn near a massacre--of us," Patterson said. "Their story, when it came out, quoted me as saying that No Gun Ri was a massacre, and that wasn't what I said at all."
James Kerns was also assigned to H Company, 2nd Battalion, at No Gun Ri and was cited in the AP account. The AP quoted Kerns, a sergeant who was manning a machine gun, as saying he fired over the heads of the refugees. "I would not fire into a bunch of women," he told the AP. Interviewed by U.S. News, Kerns confirmed that account but sharply disputed the 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."
Col. Robert Carroll, then a 25-year-old first lieutenant, was described in the AP account as having encountered 7th Cavalry riflemen firing on refugees near the railroad culvert and ordering them to stop. A reconnaissance officer assigned to 2nd Battalion's H Company and its machine gunners, Carroll says emphatically that he told the AP there was no order telling the machine gunners to open fire on the refugees and that none did. "No one ever mentioned anything like this," Carroll told U.S. News. "There was no rumor, no scuttlebutt, no nothing. Not then or later--not until 50 years later." Hanley, the AP reporter, said his team accurately reflected the views of the veterans with whom they spoke.
In re-examining the events surrounding the actions of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, at No Gun Ri, U.S. News reviewed previously unavailable Pentagon records and personnel dossiers, gained independent access to testimony and other evidence provided to the Army's inspector general, and interviewed more than 23 of the 7th Cavalry veterans who were at No Gun Ri at the time of the alleged massacre.
In the many discrepancies surrounding the events at the time and in the many news accounts that have been published since, none are as striking as those arising from Edward Daily's story. Daily's motivation for placing himself in the center of the No Gun Ri controversy after the AP story ran is unclear. After two lengthy interviews with U.S. News, Daily refused to discuss the matter further and failed to respond to a telegram containing a detailed list of questions about his actions. Last week, Daily was being treated in a veterans hospital for an undisclosed medical condition and failed to appear for a previously scheduled interview with investigators from the Army inspector general's office.
Daily has for some time been a figure of controversy among two veterans' organizations, the 7th U.S. Cavalry Association and the 1st Cavalry Division Association. (This reporter first learned of the questions about Daily's account of No Gun Ri through his membership in these associations.) In 1987, Daily helped found a separate Korean War Veterans chapter of the 7th Cavalry Association. A year later, that group held its first reunion, in Nashville. Many veterans interviewed by U.S. News say that was the first time they ever met Daily. They remember that he had some good war stories to tell. "I heard his stories, and I just took them at face value," said John Haskell, a retired major who was the operations officer of the 545th Military Police Company in the early days of the Korean War. "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 we never heard a word about it," Haskell said, adding, "It is a sad thing. Daily just wanted to be more than he was, I guess."
In introducing Daily at the start of the Dateline broadcast, Tom Brokaw called him "a proud soldier, one with 50 years of painful memories. Ed Daily," the NBC anchor continued, "is a 68-year-old Korean War veteran, a former prisoner of war, a survivor. There isn't a day when Daily doesn't think of Korea. His home in rural Tennessee is like a museum." Hillary Smith, a Dateline spokesperson, said last week: "We are reviewing the records. In the last two days we've seen more supporting documents and spoken to other GIs who told us they remember Ed Daily in Company H at the time of the killings of No Gun Ri. We are continuing to review all aspects of the story, and we will share our reporting with our viewers if there are any new developments."
If Daily's home is like a museum, some of its artifacts may be of doubtful provenance. Daily's claim that he was a prisoner of war, for instance, is not supported by Pentagon records. In a biographical note he prepared in conjunction with a history he published of the 7th Cavalry, Daily said he was a newly commissioned second lieutenant in H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, when his platoon was overrun by North Korean troops on Aug. 12, 1950, and he was taken prisoner. "With the grace of God," Daily wrote, "[I] managed to escape from the enemy on Sept. 12, 1950, and was held captive only 32 days." Documents from the Army's Personnel Records Center say that during the period cited by Daily, he was working as a mechanic with the Army's 27th Ordnance Maintenance Company. There is no record of Edward Daily's ever having been a prisoner of war. In addition, records show he was discharged from the Army as a sergeant, not as a captain as he had claimed.
"Some suspect things." There are other apparent discrepancies in Daily's war record. He claims to hold the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for valor; the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. Army records again tell a different story. Daily was awarded the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Badge, and the Meritorious Unit Emblem. Daily received no medals for valor or combat action, the records show. Hanley, the AP reporter, says, "There are some suspect things about the medals."
How did Edward Daily create such an elaborate legend for himself?
In 1973, a fire at the Army's Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed the service records of thousands of Korean War veterans. Afterward, officials at the center invited veterans whose paperwork was lost to help reconstruct their records by providing copies of discharge letters, movement orders, training records, and the like. Daily did so enthusiastically, according to officials who have reviewed the reconstructed file: In one instance, Daily supplied a letter to the records center on stationery of the Army adjutant general. The letter, supposedly mailed in May 1950, carried a return address with a ZIP code. The U.S. Postal Service didn't start using ZIP codes until 1963.
_ Between 1980 and 1985, Daily was a regular visitor to the National Archives in suburban Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. There, he spent hundreds of hours delving into the many boxes that contain the records of the units of the 1st Cavalry Division Association in Korea. (The division then comprised the 5th, 7th, and 8th Cavalry Regiments.) In 1990, Daily published The Legacy of Custer's 7th U.S. Cavalry in Korea. Two years later, Daily followed with another volume, Skirmish Red, White and Blue: The History of the 7th U.S. Cavalry (1945-1953).
Daily's enthusiasm for the cavalry seemed, to many, all consuming. He became president of the 7th Cavalry Association and spoke at reunions and ceremonies. On occasion, he turned up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Often, he was turned out in an ankle-length black duster with captain's bars on his shoulders and a coal-black cavalry Stetson.
In its long piece on Daily, by veteran reporter Michael Dobbs, the Washington Post Magazine recounted Daily's terrible memories of Korea but also his deep fondness for the men with whom he served there. "Of all the former members of the 7th Cav's H Company," Dobbs wrote, "the one most steeped in the history and tradition of the regiment is probably Ed Daily." Asked about the report, Dobbs said that nothing seemed amiss during the several interviews he conducted with Daily. "It's possible, I guess, to fabricate an account like that," Dobbs said. "But what he said was consistent with what I knew independently about the history of H Company." The reporter added that he would be eager to review any new information about Daily's background.
For all Daily's detailed knowledge of the cavalry's service in Korea, many in the cavalry who served at No Gun Ri had no idea who he was. "The first time I ever heard from Ed Daily was Christmas of 1988, when he phoned to invite me to a reunion of the 7th Cav Korean War Veterans," said Robert Carroll, the former first lieutenant reconnaissance officer assigned to the 2nd Battalion's heavy-weapons H Company at No Gun Ri. In the autobiographical sketch he included with his history of the cavalry units in Korea, Daily said Carroll had recommended him for a battlefield commission, to second lieutenant, on Aug. 10, 1950. That would have been just two days before Daily says he was taken prisoner by North Korean forces. All of this was news to Carroll. "I wondered then [in late December 1988] who the hell he was," Carroll told U.S. News. "I never had time to recommend anyone for a battlefield commission. I was way too busy."
Retired Col. John Lippincott, who was the 3rd Platoon leader of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was one of the veterans cited by the AP who said he saw no massacre at No Gun Ri. But Lippincott conceded to the AP that he could have missed any shooting of the refugees there, "because we were extremely spread out." Asked about Ed Daily by U.S. News, Lippincott was adamant: "I never saw this guy in my life . . . I never knew him in Japan or Korea. I told the Army investigators."
That, for now at least, is where the matter stands. The Army's inspector general last week extended its investigation of No Gun Ri. Investigators have interviewed more than 100 people, but officials say the inquiry almost certainly cannot be concluded by the June 25 deadline the Army originally set.
_ For Daily, meanwhile, things have taken a decidedly unpleasant turn. The man who was so enamored of the Army cavalry that he wrote two books about it has, with his claims about No Gun Ri, alienated many of the men whose fraternity he so wanted to be part of. "This guy Daily has concocted a story that is a lie, and he has been caught up in it," says retired Maj. Gen. William Webb, who was the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry adjutant when the unit deployed to Korea and when it descended into the chaos of No Gun Ri. ". . . I believe there is adequate documentation now to totally discredit Daily and his story."
This story appears in the May 22, 2000 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.