Ninety-four year old Chung Eun Yong points out the bullet holes from US 7th Cavalry rifle fire
In the days before July 26, 1950 the North Korean army was pushing US military forces southward. The US Army ordered two villages of peasant farmers in the No Gun-ri area to evacuate. There were taken by the US military to a nearby railroad track and ordered to walk along it. At one point the 500-600 refugees were instructed to bunch up and sit on the tracks. Two US military aircraft then circled overhead and dropped 7-8 bombs on their heads.
This story was told to me yesterday by a 72 year-old woman, Yang Kae-suk, who was 13 years-old at the time of the attack. Her father was carrying her grandmother on his back. The body of her grandmother was never found as body parts flew in every direction.
Her other family members tried to hide near a tree and her mother was severely wounded. A bomb fragment hit Yang in the back of the head and her left eye ball blew out of the socket and she tossed it on the ground.
Soon 7th Cavalry soldiers began firing their rifles at the defenseless crowd and they hid for cover under a nearby train tunnel. For the next four days and three nights the people inside the tunnels were fired on from four different directions by the US soldiers who had them surrounded. US planes reappeared and strafed them with machine gun fire. More people, who were crammed inside the tunnels, were killed as they tried to sneak out for water or tried to escape. Some number did escape the madness that surrounded them.
Finally in the dark of night the Army's 7th Cavalry withdrew as the North Korean Army advanced. Then early on the fourth morning the North Koreans told the people they were free.
This was not the first time the 7th Cavalry had been associated with a mass slaughter of civilians. The Regiment perpetrated the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, at the end of the Indian Wars.
Yang's mother was in terrible need of medical care but there was none available. Maggots had begun to appear inside her wounds. Her father made medicines from the rye seed and bandages from the persimmon tree that grows abundantly in the area. Her mother was to survive.
For many years the No Gun-ri massacre remained a US Army secret as the successive right-wing governments in South Korea, under the control of the US, kept a lid on the story. But then in 1999 the Associated Press broke the story and the BBC followed with a documentary (entitled "Kill 'em All") a few years later. This film reveals orders coming from the highest levels of the Army instructing the field commanders to kill all civilians who got in the way.
Over the years the survivors and their supporters had been trying to bring justice to those who were killed or wounded at No Gun-ri. They organized the "Committee for Unveiling Truth about the No Gun-ri Massacre" and finally helped force the creation of a joint South Korea-US investigation. (The US for a long time tried to down play the size of the killing field.) The final reported conservatively acknowledged the deaths of 228 people and the tunnel where people hid was surveyed and all bullet damage was marked to show the places where US troops had fired-on the tunnel. At both ends of the tunnel there are now triangles (showing where bullets still remain embedded in the concrete) and circles (where bullets created marks).
I asked Yang how she felt today about the US military. She said she could never go to school because of her missing eye. Today she grows grapes and persimmons in the small farming village where she lives. "War should not be," she told me.
To this day there has been no financial compensation to the victims or their families. About 50 survivors of the No Gun-ri massacre are still alive.
Chung Koo Do is the Director of the No Gun-Ri Institute for Peace Studies and is dedicated to ensuring that the memory of the massacre is not lost and that justice prevails. His mother was a survivor of the slaughter by the 7th Cavalry. He told me that there were over 500 incidents of killing of civilians during the war but No Gun-ri was the only case investigated by a joint South Korean-US government team. After the No Gun-ri investigation the US said it would not look into any other case.
2010 will be the 60th anniversary of No Gun-Ri. Chung told me his organization is planning to sponsor several important events to commemorate the massacre. He hopes that US soldiers who were involved in the Korean War will come for the events and he particularly hopes that Veterans for Peace in the US will send a delegation to Korea during this time. He asked me to help them make that possible and I told him I would do my best.
Chung pointed out with great pride the large area surrounding the No Gun-ri massacre site that will become a peace park. The South Korean government is now building a peace museum, educational facilities, and memorials. The survivors, and their descendants, are determined to keep the memory of No Gun-ri in the forefront of international peace movement efforts.
It is a sad moment in history that should be remembered by all of us.