Revelations Continue to Mount of U.S. War Crimes in Korea

August 1, 2001

Summary Report of U.S. Veterans Delegation to Korea, August 2 – 9, 2001, a project of the Korea Truth Commission (KTC) planned with members of Veterans For Peace (VFP). Yoomi Jeong, Deputy Secretary General, Korea Truth Commission, served as guide and translator.

by S. Brian Willson
August 21, 2001




James Gary Campbell
Korean War (Army)
Presbyterian Church (USA) minister (ret.)
VFP member at large

Edward A. Everts
World War II (Army Air Corps)
Activist, TV Producer
VFP member of Green Mountain Chapter (VT)

Michael (Mickey) Grant
Vietnam War era (Marines), served as
civilian in Laos during Vietnam War
VFP member at large

John C. (Jack) Ryan
MP (Army) at nuclear weapons site
Former FBI agent
Co-Director Catholic Worker House
VFP member at large

S. Brian Willson
Vietnam War (Air Force)
Author/Activist/Executive Film Producer
VFP member of John Steinbeck IV Chapter (CA)

Execution Photo 1
One of 18 "execution photos" taken of some of the 1,800 Korean civilians/political prisoners removed from the Taejon Prison in early July 1950, suspected of having "socialist or communist" sympathies, immediately prior to their execution by South Korean police acting under orders from Syngman Rhee in concert with U.S. military officers. Photo taken by U.S. Major Abbott, Army Liaison Officer, with a Leica camera, developed and printed by attaché office staff. Lt. Col. Bob E. Edwards, the U.S. Army Attaché in charge of documenting the executions, was quoted as saying, "General treatment of Prisoners of War after evacuation from front has been good." Photo from U.S. National Archive collection.
U.S. military officers overseeing South Korean executions of civilians "suspected of collaborating" with the "communists," near Taegu, South Korea, April 1951. Photo taken by U.S. Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) and reproduced from U.S. National Archives.
Execution Photo 2

Our delegation traveled 1,350 ground miles to Kwangju (South Cholla Province) and to Chinju, Masan, Hamanhn, Eryung, Changnyung, Pusan, Ulsan, Kyongsang, and Taegu (each in South Kyongsang Province). We visited 12 representative sites at which massacres were committed in 1950-51 by U.S. forces, or South Korean paramilitary and military units under the command of U.S. forces, meeting many of the survivors and receiving extensive, riveting testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. Several of these sites have only recently been revealed, including: (1) a rugged mountain location near Kwangju where reportedly a biological (mycotoxin T-2?) or chemical (gas or herbicide?) warfare agent (a "whitish powder" or mist sprayed from light planes) was used causing a dark skin discoloration prior to killing several hundred villagers in the fall of 1951, suggesting death from a type of hemorrhagic fever; (2) a newly discovered second Japanese mine near Kyongsang that served as a depository for hundreds of bodies; (3) the Jin Chi Ryung railroad tunnel near Chinju; and (4) the Wonbuk railroad tunnel near Masan. These latter two tunnels, where civilians were murdered in the summer of 1950, are 90 miles from the now famous No Gun Ri railroad viaduct massacre site.

The grief and rage experienced by Koreans who survived numerous traumatic assaults on their families and villages, especially from 1945 to 1953, have been psychically stored for more than 50 years without chance for expression due to fear of repression, even death. This deeply repressed rage and grief is called "Haan" in Korea. Only recently has it been "safe" for these survivors to publicly express their memories. Thus, the revelations of atrocities are still unfolding, likely to number in multiples of hundreds before all of the stories are finally public.

We visited the Kwangju Cemetery and Memorial where many of the victims of the May 1980 Kwangju Massacre are buried. General Chun Doo-Hwan had taken over the military in a coup and declared martial law. Thousands of protesters were expressing outrage throughout Korea, with Kwangju witnessing the most robust of demonstrations. As many as 2,500 Kwangju residents were murdered with the complicity of U.S. political and military officials. It’s worth noting that this massacre took place during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who came into office in 1977 on a pledge of promoting human rights as a center of his foreign policy. Yet the "first priority" of the Carter administration in 1980 as communicated to Korean military officials was the "restoration of order in Kwangju" through use of "firm anti-riot measures," to assure prevention of "another Iran" in South Korea. It is also worth noting that the U.S.-friendly but ruthless dictator, the Shah of Iran, had been deposed in January 1979, and on November 4, 1979, Islamic militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took hostage its 62 staff members.

We visited the 51-year-old U.S. Koon Ni bombing range (the "Vieques of Korea"), once referred to by the U.S. as "nightmare range," at the village of Maehyang Ri (South Chungchong Province), 50 miles south of Seoul. This bombing range is vigorously opposed by most Koreans. We also visited the 56-year-old DMZ (Kyonggi Province), 25 miles to the capital’s north, which involuntarily divides as many as ten million Korean families. We participated in a march, rally, and cultural event in Kyongsang with the 350-strong Reunification Vanguard of young people traveling to various Korean locations promoting reunification. We attended and spoke at a rally of the Daewoo workers in Seoul attempting to forestall the "neo-liberal" sale of Daewoo to foreign investors. We had an interesting meeting with representatives of the Korean Truth Committee on the Vietnam War (regarding conduct of the 312,000 Korean soldiers who fought there as mercenaries for the U.S.). They have active projects in Vietnam making apologies and reparations. This Committee is comprised of a handful of Korean soldiers and concerned citizens, and is instructive for our Vietnam veterans in the U.S.

We stood in solidarity with the Korean Women Against U.S. Occupation, a silent rally held weekly in front of the largest U.S. military base in Korea, Yongsan, in downtown Seoul. At this event we were under the watchful eye of a dozen or so men believed to be agents of the "secret" Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), formerly the KCIA. These apparent agents reported informally to one of our delegation members that they were well briefed about our presence in Korea, as well as the date of our scheduled departure. They admitted they would be relieved once we departed Korea.

We interviewed several former long-term political prisoners, all of whom served long prison terms for violating the unbelievably draconian South Korean National Security Law prohibiting discussion of reunification. Some activists have been executed for advocating Korean reunification, numerous others sentenced to life imprisonment. Recently, many prisoners have been released due to a relaxation of the law’s rigidity, and to pressure exerted by domestic and international human rights organizations.

Two of the long-term prisoners we met (now released) had been students nearly 20 years ago at a university in the United States where they were watched by Korean agents working with the complicity of the FBI and other U.S. officials. The two were returned to Korea, along with 20 other Korean students. They were originally sentenced to death, others to life imprisonment, for discussing their reunification dreams on campus. Jack Ryan of our delegation had been involved in verifying information on the two students when he was still an FBI agent in the Midwest. Ryan was later fired from the FBI for refusal to investigate as "domestic terrorist suspects" several U.S. nonviolent peace activists. Among those suspects were the four participants in the 1986 water-only Veterans Fast For Life who sat daily on the steps of the Capitol in Washington for 47 days protesting lawless U.S. policy in Central America. Delegation member Brian Willson was one of those fasters.

Delegation members Grant and Willson, two principals of Santa Cruz Film Associates, are making a documentary on the history of the U.S. in Korea. Seventeen hours were videotaped during this trip. The final documentary will be transferred to 35mm film when completed.

Evidence we garnered makes it clearer that the original, callous author of the most egregious post-WW II crimes in Korea was the U.S. government. Its decision (surprisingly with the Soviet Union’s approval) to divide Korea upon the August 15, 1945 surrender of the Japanese, and the subsequent U.S.-directed reign of terror that led directly to the civil war, then the so-called "police action," where as many as five million were killed, to be followed by extensive periods of military dictatorships supported by the U.S. government, have ensured continuous U.S. hegemony over Korean sovereignty. Protection of "our way of life" (National Security Council Document 68, 1949-50) originally demanded total suppression of dissent in Korea to assure success of our containment of "communism" (i.e., elimination of independence movements) as enunciated by U.S. State Department officials Dean Acheson and George Kennan. The assault has left deep scars and 37,000 U.S. troops at 100 military installations preventing reunification. All this intervention carried out against the wishes of the vast majority of the Korean people must rank as one of the cruelest tragedies of the Twentieth Century.

We are grateful to the Korea Truth Commission (KTC) and Veterans For Peace (VFP) for the opportunity to have represented them in this visit to South Korea. We commend VFP’s support of the KTC’s June 23rd War Crimes Tribunal in New York City. We urge VFP to reaffirm in every possible way its continuing support of the ongoing work of KTC and the Korean people’s efforts to reunify their Peninsular country absent U.S. troops and weapons.


Maps of North and South Korea from CIA public records

The U.S. decision to demarcate Korea into two sections in 1945 politically divided a country that had been unified for 5000 years, and most Koreans have a deep yearning for reunification. The demarcation line on these maps divides 10 million families. 37,000 U.S. troops at 100 installations in South Korea stand in the way.

Map of North Korea Map of South Korea

Firing Squad--Before
Thirty-nine Korean civilians "suspected of being communists" are tied up to poles and blindfolded, with bull’s eyes pinned over their hearts, just before being shot by South Korean Military Police firing squad, April 14, 1950, more than two months prior to the beginning of the "hot" war, ten miles northeast of Seoul, Korea. Six U.S. Army officers observed this execution. Photo taken by Donald Nichols of U.S. OSI (Office of Special Investigations), District #6. Photo reproduced from U.S. Archives.
Korean civilian #33 being untied from pole to be placed in coffin after being shot by South Korean military police firing squad, April 14, 1950, more than two months prior to the beginning of the "hot" war. Thirty-nine Koreans, suspected of being "Communists," were executed on this day at this site, 10 miles northeast of Seoul, Korea. Six U.S. Army officers observed this execution, including the U.S. Army Attaché. Photo taken by Donald Nichols of US OSI (Office of Special Investigations), District Office No. 6. Photo reproduced from the U.S. Archives.
Firing Squad--After


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