A War Of Memories
50 years later, a former marine grapples with questions of murder--and an elusive search for the truth
"Something traumatic." Still, there are no easy answers. Many of those who fought in Seoul now are in their 70s and 80s. Memories differ on details, and the full truth may never be known. In mid-2001, the Marine Corps's Office of Inspector General, acting on a complaint from Lamb, opened an investigation. Investigators closed the case last year, saying that they could not substantiate his allegations that prisoners had been murdered in a Korean hotel. While the "sincerity" of Lamb's allegation that "he viewed something traumatic" is not disputed, the inspector general said, "our ability to reconstruct specific events that took place more than 50 years ago was hindered by the passage of time."
That investigation was far from thorough. Investigators made no attempt to find and interview possible survivors among the eight Easy Company marines who provided information for the 1951 after-action report obtained by U.S. News, saying the report was not relevant to Lamb's allegations. The investigators also failed to examine the court-martial records the magazine reviewed. And they discounted information from a former marine who says that, while clearing a large building in Seoul, he heard a burst of gunfire and then another marine exclaim that he had just shot several North Korean prisoners in a bathing area. The inspector general's office appears to have interviewed only 17 of the more than 500 men in Lamb's Marine battalion. Investigators also questioned a handful of ex-marines who served as guards at the U.S. Embassy, which had been located in the Bando Hotel.
Death In The `Pool'
Carl Lamb was a good marine. A squad leader with Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Lamb killed the enemy, saw too many good friends die, was wounded, and put his life on the line to help save his buddies. The battle for Seoul was a major conflict in the early days of the Korean War, one of the fiercest engagements in the history of the Marine Corps. Lamb and his fellow marines took ground a foot at a time, fighting their way through barricaded streets, land mines, heavy-weapons fire, and North Korean snipers. By the early evening of September 26, Lamb says, sporadic fighting continued. Fires burned across the city. Fox Company halted its advance, and Lamb took refuge in a building on a main street.
This, Lamb says, is what happened next: Around 6:30 or 7 on the evening of the 26th, Lamb heard a burst of automatic gunfire that swelled to a crescendo, died away, then swelled again. Lamb jumped outside but couldn't locate the source of the gunfire. The next morning--under a bright sun, with temperatures in the 60s--Lamb decided to take a look inside the nearby Bando Hotel.
Lamb says he walked down a stairwell and came upon the bodies of North Korean prisoners, piled one upon another in what he thought was a small "swimming pool." The area measured about 15 by 20 feet and held no water. Scores of spent shell casings littered the tile floor in what was an eerie makeshift morgue illuminated only by shafts of light from two tall windows. Even today, Lamb shudders at the recollection: "I could see three layers of bodies. . . . They had obviously been killed the day before. Some had moved their bowels. There was excrement all over. . . . Whoever killed them, they just stood over them and sprayed the pile" with bullets. Lamb stumbled up the stairs, gasping for air--trying to get the stench of death from his nostrils.