Ex-GI's account of Korea in doubt

Army acknowledges civilian massacre, questions `witness'

Pentagon continues inquiry

Records, memories provide conflicting, spotty evidence

May 13, 2000|By Tom Bowman and Scott Shane | Tom Bowman and Scott Shane,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Army investigators believe a former GI who claims to have helped machine-gun scores of Korean civilians in 1950 - and who was flown to Korea in December by NBC's "Dateline" for a tearful reunion with survivors - was not present at the time and place of the alleged massacre, according to Pentagon officials.

The questions about Edward L. Daily have brought the killings at the hamlet of No Gun Ri in the chaotic early days of the Korean War under intense new scrutiny, including a detailed attack on the credibility of witnesses published yesterday by U.S. News & World Report on its Web site.

While Army investigators believe that civilians were killed by U.S. soldiers at No Gun Ri, they have found numerous contradictions in military records and veterans' accounts.

As a result, they say they are uncertain of the scale of the killing and whether it was ordered by officers.

An Army spokesman said yesterday that the official inquiry by the Army's Inspector General probably will not be completed until the fall.

Daily, 69, of Clarksville, Tenn., has become the highest-profile self-described eyewitness to the killings at No Gun Ri since September when the Associated Press broke the story, which won three AP reporters a Pulitzer Prize.

Though AP's initial account quoted Daily only briefly, he was later the centerpiece of accounts by the Washington Post, the Nashville Tennessean, National Public Radio and other news organizations, in addition to "Dateline."

For millions of Americans, he became the living embodiment of the gripping tale of No Gun Ri, a guilt-ridden veteran publicly and movingly confessing his sins.

But Army records and interviews with other Korean War veterans indicate that Daily did not join the unit involved in the alleged July 1950 massacre, H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, until eight months later, in March 1951.

There are other problems with Daily's account.

H Company "morning reports," obtained by The Sun, do not support Daily's claim that he was promoted to second lieutenant in the midst of combat and later held prisoner for a month by the North Koreans.

And federal archivists say they have found no records to support his claim that he was a POW or won numerous individual decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for combat bravery.

Reporter Charles J. Hanley, one of the three AP reporters who broke the story, said he has been aware for months that Army records do not support Daily's account of what he experienced.

But when he challenged the veteran, Hanley said, Daily showed him documents and memorabilia that persuaded him the records were flawed and the veteran was telling the truth. Several soldiers also placed Daily at the scene, said Hanley.

Hanley emphasized that the evidence that a massacre took place does not rest exclusively on Daily's credibility. To date, he said, AP has identified about 50 people, either former GIs or Korean survivors, who say they saw civilians killed."Dateline" issued a statement yesterday generally defending its report on the massacre."We are reviewing the records," said "Dateline" spokeswoman, HilarySmith. "In the last two days, we've seen supporting documents and spoken to other GIs who told us they remember Ed Daily in Company H at the time of the killings at No Gun Ri."

An Army spokesman said officials will not respond to every media report on the unfolding saga of No Gun Ri, including the questions about Daily."We are aware of the inconsistencies," said Maj. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman. But Collins emphasized that even if Daily's account proves to be untrue, "it doesn't change the review, which is intended to find out what happened.""Daily or whoever else is just a small part of a very large picture," he said.

Daily did not respond this week to inquiries from The Sun, including several phone calls and a letter delivered to his home by Federal Express that he signed for.

He was not at his home, a brick rambler in the rolling fields outside Clarksville, Tenn., Thursday or yesterday when a Sun reporter made several visits to the home in an effort to interview him.

Several days ago, however, Daily told U.S. News & World Report: "To the best of my recollection, I served my whole time in H Company, 2nd Battalion in Japan and Korea. My memory is that I was there at No Gun Ri and did what I said I did."But you know, I have been sick for years. I have been in therapy at the VA [Veterans Administration]. It was my nightmares from Korea that cost me my job. I take three strong pills for mental illness. I haven't been able to sleep since this thing started."

Daily's comments were reported yesterday on the U.S. News Web site (usnews.com) as part of a lengthy and skeptical analysis of AP's account of the massacre.

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