No Gun Ri, South Korea With poems, prayers and tears, survivors and relatives on Wednesday commemorated the 50th anniversary of an alleged mass killing of hundreds of civilians by U.S. troops at a railroad bridge early in the Korean War.
In summer heat, several hundred people bowed and burned incense at an altar in an underpass where survivors said many victims were trapped and killed in a hail of gunfire. Trains periodically passed overhead.
"Like today, that day was sweltering too," said Chung Eun-yong, chairman of a survivors' group, the Committee for Unveiling Truth at the No Gun Ri Massacre.
"The tragedy occurred in a small suffocating space where even breathing was difficult and moving your body an inch was extremely painful," he said.
Both the Pentagon and South Korea opened inquiries last year after The Associated Press quoted U.S. veterans and South Korean survivors as saying American GIs carried out a mass killing of refugees July 26-28, 1950, at the hamlet of No Gun Ri. Ex-GIs spoke of 100, 200 or simply hundreds dead. The South Koreans say up to 300 were killed.
The alleged shootings were preceded by an aerial strafing of a refugee column in which survivors and ex-GIs estimate about 100 civilians died.
U.S. archival documents showed that orders were issued in the early weeks of the war to U.S. ground troops and Air Force planes to open fire and prevent civilian refugees crossing the American lines for fear they may have included enemy infiltrators.
Chung and other survivors, who want compensation, have complained that Washington has been slow to release information on its investigation. The U.S. military has denied accusations that it was not sharing enough information with South Korean investigators. The Pentagon says the work won't be finished until this fall.
At the memorial service, 74-year-old Sohn Hyun-uk was among the survivors who described the shooting at No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of the capital of Seoul.
"I saw sparks from rifles firing on the hills in the distance and then bullets ricocheted on the concrete walls like beans popping around in a hot frying pan. People died," Sohn said.