The Bridge at No Gun Ri

The Bridge at No Gun Ri

Parts of the Associated Press report reprinted here appeared in many American newspapers last fall, but we didn’t see the entire report anywhere. It is a powerful document, an unusual piece of investigative journalism, and one that has had significant political consequences. The U.S. Army is now investigating the allegations made by the soldiers quoted here (after long resistance to similar allegations by Korean civilians). There should be an official report in late spring or early summer of this year. Anticipating the discussion certain to follow upon the report, we include with the AP dispatch two comments on the political and moral meaning of the incident at No Gun Ri. —Eds.


From freshly dug foxholes, the GIs looked out over their gunsights. Hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children, were moving toward their lines, trying to cross to safety. The young American soldiers, new at the warfront, were wary. Orders had come down: No one crosses the line. “It was assumed there were enemy in these people,” veteran Herman Patterson remembers.

A terrible episode was about to unfold in a “forgotten war,” a chapter of the 1950-1953 Korean conflict that would remain unwritten until a dozen ex-soldiers, in interviews with the Associated Press, corroborated the allegations of South Koreans who say they survived a mass killing at the U.S. Army’s hands. In late July 1950, the American veterans said, their army battalion killed a large number of South Korean refugees beneath a railroad bridge at a hamlet called No Gun Ri. Ex-GIs speak of a hundred, two hundred, or simply hundreds dead. The Koreans, whose claim or compensation was rejected last year, say three hundred were shot to death after a hundred had been killed in an air attack. American commanders had ordered units in retreat in the Korean War’s first desperate weeks to shoot civilians as a defense against disguised enemy soldiers, according to once-classified documents found by the AP in months of researching U.S. military archives and interviewing veterans across the Unites States. Six veterans of the First Cavalry Division said they fired on the refugee throng at No Gun Ri, and six others said they witnessed the mass killing at the South Korean hamlet. More said they knew or heard about it. After five decades, none gave a complete, detailed account. But ex-GIs agreed on such elements as time and place, and on the preponderance of women, children, and old men among the victims.

The veterans also disagreed: some said they were fired upon from beneath the bridge, but others said they don’t remember hostile fire. One said they later found a few disguised North Korean soldiers among the dead. But ex-comrades disputed this. Several said some soldiers refused to shoot what one described as “civilians just trying to hide.”

The thirty Korean claimants—survivors and victims’ relatives—said it was an...