The Muccio Letter: Making Old News New Again

The AP writers Charles Hanley and Martha Mendoza are literally making a career off of one topic, No Gun-ri. With no new claims to make about the incident they have now gone back to recycling old claims in order to make headlines. Their latest article to make the front page of Yahoo is about the Muccio Letter that was sent to the State Department from the US Ambassador in Korea, John Muccio during the Korean War. News of this letter came out a year ago and now Hanley and crew are bringing it up again as some kind of new news on the front page of Yahoo:

Six years after declaring the U.S. killing of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri was “not deliberate,” the Army has acknowledged it found but did not divulge that a high-level document said the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea.

The document, a letter from the U.S. ambassador in South Korea to the State Department in Washington, is dated the day in 1950 when U.S. troops began the No Gun Ri shootings, in which survivors say hundreds, mostly women and children, were killed.

Exclusion of the embassy letter from the Army’s 2001 investigative report is the most significant among numerous omissions of documents and testimony pointing to a policy of firing on refugee groups — undisclosed evidence uncovered by Associated Press archival research and Freedom of Information Act requests.

I love how once again the AP reporters put in there that this letter was dated the same day as the No Gun-ri tragedy in order to cause the reader to link No Gun-ri to the sending of this letter. They did the same thing in their nearly identical article on the Muccio Letter last year. No Gun-ri had absolutely nothing to do with the writing of this letter and the AP writers know it.

For those who have not read anything about No Gun-ri before, I highly recommend you read my series of postings on this tragedy that also includes information on the Muccio Letter because I’m going to refer to many of the facts in my prior posting in this post. Reading the series of postings should give you better context of what I’m about to discuss.

In the letter Ambassador Muccio is informing the Secretary of State of the reality of the refugee policy that was agreed upon by the South Korean government and the US Army just days before No Gun-ri. Muccio sent the letter to the State Department to inform the Secretary of State of the new refugee policy agreed upon between the South Korean government and the US military due to the communist infiltrators in the refugee columns attacking US and ROK forces. When reading anything from these AP reporters you have to go back and read the actual documents because the AP reporters only pick and choose a few choice phrases from the letter and do not provide the full context of the letter. So in order to provide that context let’s go through the complete Muccio Letter.

Here is how it opens:

Dear Dean: The refugee problem has developed aspects of a serious and even critical military nature, aside from the welfare aspects. Necessarily, decisions are being made by the military in regard to it, and in view of the possibility of repercussions in the United States from the effectuation of these decisions, I have thought it desirable to inform you of them.

Notice nothing about war crimes, Geneva Convention, or anything else that the AP wants you to believe Muccio was warning the Secretary of State of. He is simply informing the Secretary of State of the new policy and the possibility of bad publicity from it back in the US. He then explains why the policy agreed upon:

The enemy has used the refugees to his advantage in many ways: by forcing them south and so clogging the roads as to interfere with military movements; by using them as a channel for infiltration of agents; and most dangerous of all by disguising their own troops as refugees, who after passing through our lines proceed, after dark, to produce hidden weapons, and then attack our units from the rear. Too often such attacks have been devastatingly successful. Such infiltrations had a considerable part in the defeat of the 24th Division at Taejon.

I actually did a series of postings on the destruction of the US 24th Division during the Korean War (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3). The 24ID’s destruction was definitely aided by the use of North Korean soldiers dressed in civilian clothes. Muccio wrote his letter in response to the 24ID’s destruction not No Gun-ri as the AP in their article tries to lead the reader to believe. No where in the AP article do they make any mention of the 24ID, but they reference No Gun-ri over and over again.

Muccio goes on to explain who was involved in the decision making process:

Naturally, the Army is determined to end this threat. Yesterday evening a meeting was arranged, by 8th Army HQ request, at the office of the Home Minister at the temporary Capitol. G-1, G-2, Provost Marshall, CIC, the Embassy, the Home and Social Affairs Ministries, and the Director National Police. The following decisions were made:

These are all US military staff personnel, the US embassy, and the ministries of the Korean government and the Korean National Police. So you had elements from the military, US government, and the Korean government making a combined decision on how to handle the refugee and infiltration problems. This is what they came up with to handle the problems:

1. Leaflet drops will be made north of US lines banning the people not to proceed south, that they risk being fired upon if they do so. If refugees do appear from north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot.

2. Leaflet drops and oral warning by police within US combat zone will be made to the effect that no one can move south unless ordered, and then only under police control, that all movement of Korean civilians must end at sunset or those moving will risk being shot when dark comes.

3. Should the local tactical commander consider it essential to evacuate a given sector he will notify the police liaison officers attached to his HQ, who through the area Korean National Police will notify the inhabitants, and start them southward under police control on specified minor roads. No one will be permitted to move unless police notify them, and those further south not notified will be required to stay put.

4. Refugee groups must stop at sunset, and not move again until daylight. Police will establish check points to catch enemy agents; subsequently Social Ministry will be prepared to care for, and direct refugees to camps or other areas.

5. No mass movements unless police controlled will be permitted. Individual movements will be subject to police checks at numerous points.

6. In all cities, towns curfew will be at 9 p.m., with effective enforcement at 10 p.m. Any unauthorized person on streets after 10 p.m. is to be arrested, and carefully examined. The last item is already in effect.


John J. Muccio

This refugee policy is included in the official US Army report about what happened at No Gun-ri. Muccio’s Letter just confirms already established facts. However, Hanley and crew are still invested in trying to present the No Gun-ri tragedy as a government cover up. Their latest attempt at proving a great government cover up in this article is that they want you to believe that this letter has been hidden from the public until it was “uncovered” by the AP, when in fact the letter was declassified in 1982 and sitting in the National Archives for anyone to see. The Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said that the letter may have been overlooked during the investigation. It really doesn’t matter because this letter offers absolutely nothing new that wasn’t already in the official army report already. However, the AP reporters aren’t going to tell you that because they are still trying to spin this story into a great government cover up. Think about it, if the US government wanted to cover up this letter why didn’t someone just pull a Sandy Berger on it?

Getting back to the refugee policy in the latest AP article this is the only thing they publish in regards to the refugee policy outlined in the letter:

“If refugees do appear from north of US lines they will receive warning shots, and if they then persist in advancing they will be shot,” the ambassador told Rusk, cautioning that these shootings might cause “repercussions in the United States.” Deliberately attacking noncombatants is a war crime.

Notice they only mention warning shots leading the reader to believe that warning shots was the only measure taken to prevent shooting civilians during the war. They mention nothing about leaflet drops, visits to the villages by the Korean National Police to move refugees through the frontlines, oral warnings from the soldiers, curfews, and police checkpoints. None of this is mentioned by the AP, further more they do not mention that the refugee column at No Gun-ri did not have a police escort, were given oral warnings, and had broken curfew before the tragedy happened. Also notice how they throw in there “deliberately attacking noncombatants is a war crime”. They add that to the paragraph right after taking an excerpt from the Muccio Letter. If the reader is not reading closely it is easy to mistake the AP writers adding of the war crime phrase as being part of the Muccio Letter. Journalists are very careful on how they construct their articles and this is without a doubt intentionally done.

Additionally Hanley and crew continue to deny evidence of enemy infiltration at No Gun-ri in their latest article:

No Gun Ri, where no evidence emerged of enemy infiltrators, was not the only such incident. As 1950 wore on, U.S. commanders repeatedly ordered refugees shot, according to declassified documents obtained by the AP.

There is evidence of infiltration and lots of it. First of all the unit S4 log from the 7th Cavalry shows that two Russian and Japanese made rifles were turned into supply on the day after the No Gun-ri tragedy happened. Then to top it off a South Korean forensics team discovered shell casings from the same Russian and Japanese rifles listed in the S4 log at the scene along with rounds from the Americans weapons. No other battle took place at the bridge during the Korean War leaving the No Gun-ri incident as the likely time that the shell casings were discharged at the site. Than finally there is witness testimony from soldiers who were proven to be there that gun fire did come from the direction of the refugees. Of course all of this is not considered evidence by the AP.

Also notice the reference to the AP uncovering more documents about the killing of civilians during the Korean War. They use this to go on in the article to claim they have uncovered more killing of civilians during the war by US forces:

One incident, on Sept. 1, 1950, has been confirmed by the declassified official diary of the USS DeHaven, which says that the Navy destroyer, at Army insistence, fired on a seaside refugee encampment at Pohang, South Korea. Survivors say 100 to 200 people were killed. South Korean officials announced in February they would investigate.

More than a dozen documents — in which high-ranking U.S. officers tell troops that refugees are “fair game,” for example, and order them to “shoot all refugees coming across river” — were found by the AP in the investigators’ own archived files after the 2001 inquiry. None of those documents was disclosed in the Army’s 300-page public report.

Notice once again the selective quotes. I would love to get my hands on all these documents and see what the context of all these quotes are. I have already demonstrated how Hanley and his crew have twisted the Muccio Letter so it will be interesting to see how they have twisted the quotes from these documents once they are made public.

Anyway all of this is nothing new. The AP has not “uncovered” any deep dark secrets from the Korean War. I first learned about the shooting of civilians during the Korean War in high school history class, but the AP reporters want you to believe through their <sarcasm on> ground breaking research they have uncovered these deep dark secrets of the Korean War that the military is trying to hide from the public <sarcasm off>.

Take for example the quote above “shoot all refugees coming across the river”, this is probably from the Naktong River defense during the most desperate days of the Korean War. The measures both the US and ROK militaries had to take to uphold the Pusan Perimeter is well documented. Take for example this quote from T.R. Fehrenbach’s book, This Kind of War:

Then, with the refugees pushed back onto the shore, the rear guard turned and pelted across to the friendly bank, but the second they turned, the Koreans dashed madly for the bridge and soon filled it, even before the cavalrymen were across.

Three times, at Gay’s order, they repeated the maneuver, without success. Short of shooting them there was no way to keep the Koreans from using the bridge. Even telling them it would be blown did no good. Now it was growing dark, and the Inmun Gun was closing. As the rear guard recrossed to the east side for the third time, with the mass of Koreans close behind them, Hobart Gay, his face pale, said, “Blow it.” He had no other choice.

Several hundred Koreans went into the river with the bridge.

Page, 106-107, This Kind of War

This book is not some obscure book that could not be located by the AP. Fehrenbach’s book is one of the best books on the Korean War and widely available. The Army’s official history of the Korean War, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, by Roy Appleman has plenty accounts of civilian shootings during the war as well. There are many other books out there that document not only the killing of civilians along the Pusan Perimeter, but throughout the Korean War as well. I could point all of this out to them and save them all their <sarcasm on>investigative trips to uncover the truth about civilian shootings during the war<sarcasm off>. The truth about the shooting of the civilians during the war is actually quite well documented and is nothing new.

The AP article also goes on to claim that the No Gun-ri victims families have still not received any apology or compensation from the US government. Once again the AP is not telling the whole truth. The victim families received an apology from President Clinton as well as an offer to build a memorial at the site and establish a scholarship fund for the children of the victim’s families. The families did not want this. They wanted $400 million dollars instead. The money to buy a new car and take a vacation to Guam is obviously more important than free college education for their children.

The AP further goes on to advance the body count mythology that up 400 people died at No Gun-ri. Critics including myself find this claim highly suspicious and with the Korean government announcing they are going to do excavations around the country of mass killings during the Korean War why isn’t the Korean government excavating the area around No Gun-ri for these 400 bodies? There should be tons of forensic evidence left of 400 bodies around No Gun-ri, yet no one is digging. I welcome an excavation of the area, but of course one will never be done.

Once again the AP has not uncovered anything new, but are relying on the public’s lack of knowledge about the Korean War to advance their agenda that it is new. Imagine if the AP ran a similar article about US soldiers during World War II shooting civilians. The AP would be viewed as trying to slime the Greatest Generation because of the general public’s greater knowledge and context of the war. If the AP wrote a story claiming US soldiers killed civilians during the Vietnam War the general public would yawn because it is nothing new and the civilian killings during the war already well documented and known to the general public and was used by earlier jounalists to slime the whole generation of soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. Civilian killings during the Korean War on the otherhand are well documented, but the general public knows very little about the Korean War. There is a reason it is called the Forgotten War because very few people know anything about it. The AP is playing off this lack of public knowledge to make their claims of uncovering all these hidden tragedies from the war that is being covered up by the government.

The next question that needs to be asked is why now is the AP recycling a story about the Muccio Letter that first came out a year ago? I have long been posting about the current media effort to paint US soldiers as uneducated low lives that are committing war crimes all over Iraq. Hanley and crew are hoping to piggyback off the anti-Iraq sentiment in the media and the anti-war movement in general in order to add creditability to their story that has been greatly tarnished by critics.

Once again I challenge Hanley and company, like other critics have, to release in full, all of his research material including the witness testimony preferably in Korean to make sure accurate translations were done. I find it interesting that Hanley and company are accusing the US government of a cover up of a document, the Muccio Letter, that has been sitting declassified in the National Archives since 1982, but will not release any of their research material or full witness transcripts for public scruntiny. What information Hanley and crew have released in their various articles has been scrutinized by critics and major holes and discrepancies have been found. This is why the AP will not release all of their information for public scrutiny because more holes will be found by researchers. When researchers do criticize what has been released in their news articles, Hanley and his crew become the David Albright of the news world and use ad hominem attacks instead of ending the controversy all together by releasing all of their material for public scrutiny like any good historian or researcher does to survive peer review before something becomes an established fact. Hanley and company want their views of history to be considered fact without going through a peer review.

As we have seen with the AP before and the news media in general, facts run second to perception and creating a negative perception of war criminal GI’s during the Korean War complete with a great government cover up is the kind of perception that Pulitzer Prizes are made of. It is bad enough the Korean War is considered the Forgotten War in America, but now it is becoming the Revised War as well, in an effort to smear the veterans who traveled half way around the world to fight for freedom in a country they never heard of.

You can read more at the Marmot’s Hole and Lost Nomad.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. Good luck keeping up the fight, because they surely will.

    I've decided to not waste another minute of my life on the Nogunri Massacre media debacle, because you can't win. You can do a lot of damage. You can do significant work in the fight – because more and more – as new generations come – they increasingly go to the internet to find information on topics that peak their intersts.

    But, the AP and media are going to continue to promote this story.

    It was never news — not since the Korean War itself. Anyone reading the newspapers of the day, or watching the news reels, or read books on the war written long before now, would be familiar with the refugee situation, NK tactics, and the battlefield deaths of civilians.

    It did not take the Freedom of Information Act to make this story known —– but they get a Pulitzer for it —

    —and solidify it as perpetual material for publication.

    With all the stuff going on in Dafur, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and over a hundred places where war and/or tyranny are still going on —–

    —–the AP makes its money and fame by ——- thumping Nogunri and a 50 year old war…..

    Human society is a pathetic thing…..

  2. " instead of ending the controversy all together by releasing all of their material for public scrutiny like any good historian or researcher does"

    This is the one and only kudo I give to Tim Sherrock for a very similar media tragedy (in Korea) on the Kwangju Massacre.

    When the US media did not jump all over the story back in the 1990s like they did the Nogunri fiasco, he got his fame by having it translated and printed in Korea and then put up at

    But — he also gave extensive portions of the actual cable communications he used – and he quoted extensively from them – so a reader with any critical eye could see what whopping leaps in logic and slight of hand rhetorical techniques he was using.

    The AP relied on the chic of "previously secret documents" and "eye witness testimony" without providing the documents and knowing the average person couldn't track down the people they interviewed.

    But, even with other large media orgs finding problems with the story, it still makes it into their pages too and is still taught as the real version of the truth in history departments at US colleges and high schools…

  3. its a very easy reason why, shot a lie very loudly and for very long and your lie will become the truth.

    and my friends wonder why i hate the AP so uch?


    Over at One Free Korea's, it seems a retired journalist who worked for the AP back when the Nogunri Massacre stuff was put together says that some of the members he talked to in the team —— refused to believe the idea that North Korea's military used infiltrators dressed in civilian clothes to mix in with refugees to pass through allied lines.

    If true, that is fairly amazing given the sheer amount of historical record you have to dismiss.

  5. I just read the comment, very interesting. I am going to have to track down Mr. Clifford's book. It would be incredible if the AP team entered the No Gun-ri investigation discounting the fact that North Korea used infiltrators in the refugee columns to break through US and Korean lines.

    It wouldn't be the first time they have ignored historical evidence and I'm sure it will not be the last either.

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