Korean activist who exposed US Army massacre dies

Over the years Chung Eun-yong — who died on Aug. 1 at 91 at his home in Daejeon, South Korea — amassed evidence that American troops had systematically killed more than 100, and possibly as many as 400, civilian refugees early in the Korean War near a railroad bridge outside the South Korean village of No Gun Ri. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/world/asia/chung-eun-yong-91-dies-helped-expose-us-killings-of-south-koreans.html?ref=world  He sent more than a dozen petitions to the American government demanding an apology and compensation.
He also led protests, and when a young reporter for The Associated Press, Choe Sang-Hun, saw a photo of one published in a small South Korean magazine showing graying men standing stiffly outside the United States Embassy in Seoul, he became intrigued. A caption said they were petitioning for redress for a “massacre.”
Mr. Choe, now a correspondent for The New York Times, interviewed some of the men and wrote an article about them for The A.P. in April 1998. Soon he joined a team of A.P. reporters and editors to examine what exactly had happened over three days in 1950, July 26-29, at No Gun Ri.
The journalists provided evidence, later confirmed by the Defense Department, that Americans had indeed killed civilians on those dates near the village. They also searched through declassified documents and found that orders had been given to shoot civilians in combat areas. The military feared that enemy soldiers would disguise themselves as civilians, as they often did.
Its investigation earned The A.P. team a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in April 2000. That June, CBS News said it had discovered a memorandum confirming that the Air Force had strafed the refugees at the Army’s request.
The Army ultimately acknowledged the killings in a report released in 2001, calling them “a deeply regrettable accompaniment to a war.” President Bill Clinton issued a statement of regret, but did not make the apology that survivors had requested. The South Korean government certified the names of 163 dead, approved medical subsidies for the surviving wounded and authorized a memorial, which opened in 2011.
There was a striking disparity between the conclusions of the Defense Department’s investigation and those of the South Korean government. The Koreans said that United States pilots had been told to attack civilians and that ground troops, too, might have received orders to fire on them. The United States denied this.
“It was a story no one wanted to hear,” The A.P. began its report. But it was the story Mr. Chung had yearned to tell.
Quoted in “The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare From the Korean War,” a 2001 book by Mr. Choe and his A.P. colleagues Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza, Mr. Chung said, “I always believed someone would listen to my story.”
Chung Eun-yong was born in the village of Chu Gok Ri in 1923 and dreamed of becoming an architect. He could afford only a school for railroad workers and became a telegraph operator for the Japanese occupying Korea. He quit after a fistfight with a Japanese co-worker.
To avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army, he joined the national police force in 1944. Soon after, he wed Park Sun-yong in an arranged marriage on a date selected by a fortune teller. He resigned from the police in 1949 — he said he was disgusted by the corruption there — and studied law at a Seoul university.
By then Korea had been split into a Communist North and a non-Communist South under an agreement in 1945 between the United States and the Soviet Union. Tensions mounted until North Korean forces invaded the South on June 25, 1950. President Harry S. Truman ordered American troops to help South Korea.
The first United States forces that were rushed to Korea from Japan were widely acknowledged to have been inadequately trained and poorly equipped, and the North Koreans easily pushed them southward. Some North Korean troops wore the sort of white clothes worn by civilians whom American troops had ordered to leave the war zone.
“All Koreans, North and South, look alike to the Americans,” The A.P. reported at the time. “Soldiers sometimes potshot at suspicious white-clad figures.”
As the Communists approached, Mr. Chung feared that his earlier police work for the South Korean government would put him in danger, he told The A.P. reporters. So he reluctantly separated from his family, believing, he said, that women and children would be safe.
As he left, his son ran up and hugged him, vainly begging Mr. Chung to let him come along.
It turned out that his family was in the greatest danger. They were part of a refugee column that was stopped at a roadblock by a platoon of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment on July 26, searched for weapons and herded aside to make way for military vehicles.
Some survivors said they heard Army officers radioing to overhead planes to attack the refugee group, a contention in line with the memo CBS News reported. But government investigators could never find flight logs or other evidence to confirm a request for strafing. Some speculated on whether the attack might have been accidental, noting that American planes had mistakenly strafed American troops earlier the same day.
Many of the civilians took shelter in a low, narrow culvert beneath a railroad embankment. Over the next three days, American troops fired on them with machine guns and rifles. Mr. Chung’s children died in the onslaught, and his wife was wounded. She told the authors of the book that she believed she had been able to escape because she was clutching a Bible, though she would have preferred to die, she said.
In its investigation, The A.P. uncovered orders calling for “drastic action” against refugee groups and interviewed about 20 soldiers who said they had been in the immediate area and either heard of the killing of civilians or witnessed it.
U.S. News & World Report and other news organizations questioned The A.P.’s account, citing allegations that several of the veterans it quoted had not been at the scene.
After investigating itself, The A.P. admitted that one, Edward L. Daily, had definitely not been present. The Pulitzer committee reviewed the evidence and decided that the news agency still deserved the prize.
Mr. Chung later found a job unloading American military supplies at a wharf. He told the authors that he quit after tiring of being called “a gook” and seeing colleagues beaten. He rejoined the police, and at night completed a law degree.
But he could not escape his psychological prison. “For the father who left his family to the mercy of American soldiers, no prayer could lift the weight,” he said, adding, “I was a cowardly father.”
In 1960 he read that the United States government was accepting claims for war-related damages. He gathered several No Gun Ri survivors to join him in applying but missed the deadline.
He worked for a government agency dedicated to fighting Communism and helped start a bottle-making plant. He retired in the mid-1980s.
Mr. Chung kept investigating the killings at No Gun Ri, not least because his dead son’s voice haunted his dreams, he said. After a civilian democratic government replaced South Korea’s military dictatorship in 1992, he dared to hope that someone might listen. So he wrote a book, but it was rejected by 10 publishers, who told him, he said, that its accusations against the Americans were too controversial.
Finally, in 1994, he published his story as a novel based on a true story titled “Do You Know Our Agony?” He also began his barrage of petitions.
Mr. Chung’s survivors include his wife of 69 years and a son born after the war, Chung Koo-do, who is chairman of the government-supported No Gun Ri International Peace Foundation. The group announced Mr. Chung’s death.
In 1999, Mr. Chung joined American veterans of No Gun Ri in a reconciliation service at a Cleveland church.
“We believe God will forgive the veterans and the United States government when they repent their sins,” he said.

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