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U.S. Acknowledgment of Massacre at No Gun Ri is an "Important Step," NCC Says
Council Calls on U.S. to Take Responsibility, Work with South Korea for Full Resolution

January 12, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – Thursday’s official U.S. government acknowledgment that American soldiers killed refugees at No Gun Ri (alternative spelling: Nokeun-ri) during the Korean War is "an important step on the still-unfinished journey toward truth, justice and healing," said Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC).

But Dr. Edgar expressed concern that the Pentagon’s report did not deal adequately with the responsibility of commanders and did not address demands of survivors and family members for compensation.

"Until justice is done," he said, "there can be no true reconciliation between our two peoples, and no lasting peace for survivors, victims and their families – or for those GIs who killed and wounded innocent civilians at No Gun Ri. The U.S. government must continue to work with the Korean authorities and the survivors of the No Gun Ri massacre and their families to bring the matter to a satisfactory closure."

The Army’s acknowledgment Thursday that "an unknown number of Korean civilians were killed or injured" at the hamlet of No Gun Ri by U.S. troops in late July 1950 reversed its previous stance that U.S. troops were not involved.

The (U.S.) National Council of Churches, the nation’s leading ecumenical organization with 36 member denominations comprising 50 million adherents, and its South Korean counterpart more than two years ago had asked the Pentagon for its response to detailed testimony from Korean survivors and eyewitnesses to the massacre at No Gun Ri of, by their count, some 400 innocent civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly.

Responding to an official request from survivors and bereaved family members, the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) Committee for Justice and Human Rights had recorded survivors' testimonies as part of its own investigation of the incident, then forwarded the dossier to the NCC with a request "for your cooperation to resolve this issue."

Victor W.C. Hsu, then the NCC’s East Asia and the Pacific Office Director, wrote Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen on December 18, 1998, enclosing the NCCK-assembled dossier and asking the Pentagon's response to the allegations. "According to the NCCK," Mr. Hsu wrote, "the U.S. Army 'refuses to take responsibility for this massacre' because 'this incident happened during the war.'"

The investigation was put in the hands of John P. McLaurin, III, Deputy General Secretary (Military Personnel Management and Equal Opportunity Policy), who on March 22, 1999, wrote Mr. Hsu to report, "The Army's Center of Military History reviewed the enclosures to the packet created by the National Council of Churches in Korea and also available U.S. Army records for the Korean War for July 1950 located in the National Archives and Records Administration. Their review found no information to substantiate the claim that U.S. Army soldiers perpetrated a massacre of South Korean civilians at Nokuen-ri."

In September 1999, the Associated Press published its own documentation of the massacre in a series of reports that subsequently was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. About 20 ex-GIs interviewed by the AP "recalled orders to shoot," the AP reported.

The AP "also found wartime documents showing that at least three high-level Army headquarters and an Air Force command ordered troops to treat as hostile any civilians approaching U.S. positions. At the time, U.S. forces were in retreat, and thousands of refugees fled for their safety as the North Korean army advanced south."

Praising the AP’s reporting, the NCC urged the U.S. government to give speedy, aggressive attention to the grievance of South Koreans against U.S. military personnel. In November 1999, the NCC brought U.S. veterans and survivors of the No Gun Ri massacre together in Cleveland for a ceremony of "recognition and remembrance" – the first encounter between members of the two groups since the tragic event 50 years ago.

According to a January 12, 2001, Associated Press report, Donald P. Gregg, chief spokesman for an eight-member panel of outside experts appointed by the Pentagon to monitor the Army inquiry, expressed general satisfaction with Thursday’s Pentagon report, commenting that the Army had done a poor job earlier of looking into the allegations.

In his public response to the Pentagon’s report, President Clinton said, "I deeply regret that Korean civilians lost their lives at No Gun Ri." South Korea’s President, Kim Dae-jung, phoned Clinton to thank him for his statement, the AP reported.

"Telling the truth takes courage," Dr. Edgar said. "We salute the members of the U.S. military who have stepped forward to right a wrong. And we are grateful to the survivors and their families and to the National Council of Churches in Korea for their persistence in demanding that the massacre be acknowledged and a just resolution be found."

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