The Associated Press, which prides itself on speedy reporting, appalled the civilized world on September 29, 1999, when it broke a half-century-old story. The news report claimed that U.S. military forces massacred as many as 400 civilians in the early days of the Korean conflict. According to the report, the slaughter denied by the Army and hushed up for years occurred in July 1950 in the South Korean hamlet of No Gun Ri. The story earned the Pulitzer Prize for reporters Sang-Hun Choe, Charles Hanley and Martha Mendoza. In The Bridge at No Gun Ri, these wire-service staffers have added depth and breadth to their initial account. They tell how aging U.S. veterans and surviving Koreans have tried to cope with haunting memories and tragic losses. The result is an even-handed and engrossing account of the carnage and its consequences.
Why the massacre? U.S. troops feared enemy soldiers had donned peasant clothes and joined civilian refugees streaming southward toward American lines. Without a way to identify disguised infiltrators, the U.S. plan to eliminate them became simple: Kill everyone. When a large group of refugees paused to rest near a bridge, American planes strafed them, killing about 100. Hundreds of others, most of them children, women and old men, managed to take cover beneath the bridge. In the next three days, some 300 were shot to death. The American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies, recalls a survivor.
The three writers, combing through thousands of documents and conducting hundreds of interviews, established a clear record of the atrocities. Their findings triggered a U.S. investigation leading to an expression of regret from former President Clinton.
The Korean survivors' emotion-stirring tales show how innocent victims driven by the power of family love managed to persevere despite their irreparably damaged lives. When the book is closed, one question is likely to linger in the reader's mind: Could I have kept on going as they did?
Ex-newsman Alan Prince served in the Army during the Korean War.