View Full Version : USMC War Crime Cover-Up
12-19-03, 07:14 AM
Guest Column: USMC War Crime Cover-up
By Eric Longabardi
One morning in late September 1950 was a fateful day in the life of then-U.S. Marine Sgt. Carl Vernon Lamb. At the time, Lamb was a rifleman and squad leader in Fox Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Lamb’s unit was engaged in an intense and savage battle for Seoul, the South Korean capital. American Marines were taking the city back, block by block, from the North Korean communist invaders. The North Koreans had seized Seoul only months before in a surprise invasion that swept south across the Korean peninsula.
That day on the streets of Seoul, Sgt. Lamb made a split-second decision to stand up for the truth and the honor of U.S. Marines * and he demanded that his Marine Corps superiors do the same. Carl Lamb is still making that demand to the Marines some 53 years later.
This is what Sgt. Lamb says happened on that day in Seoul.
A Marine buddy, another sergeant in Fox 2/1, came and told him of a sight he had to see with his own eyes. Lamb then went to the site in the basement of a hotel, the tallest building in the city. With own eyes, Lamb says he saw the aftermath of a massacre * dozens of dead, stripped naked POWs who were piled in a dry “swimming pool.” The dead POWs had been machine-gunned at close range.
The night before, Lamb says he believes he heard the crime being committed * a swelling burst of gunfire when he was near by the same hotel, but he had no idea at the time where the gunfire had been coming from or what it meant.
He never got over the outrage he felt over what he says he witnessed. The bodies were piled one on top of another, riddled with bullets. The stench of death permeated his senses and his consciousness.
Death was not new to Sgt. Lamb. He was no stranger to killing. He had done and seen plenty of it himself on his march to and through Seoul. He would do and see even more killing in the months ahead in the cruel and brutal reality of the Korean War.
What he saw was more than death * in just the few minutes he spent looking upon the scene inside the Seoul hotel * he realized that a number of unidentified Marines in his midst were cold-blooded murderers.
Lamb believed then and still believes today there was no “fog of war,” no “gray area” surrounding the incident. There was no justification for this kind of killing.
Sgt. Lamb was a Marine and by all accounts, a very good one. His fellow Marines looked up to him. He decided that he could not let this incident go. Lamb complained about it immediately after he saw it and hasn’t stopped complaining about it for 53 years. Marines are trained to kill, not to murder.
I reported on this alleged war crime incident last month in an exclusive investigative report published in the pages of U.S. News & World Report (“Cover-up of War Crime Committed by U.S. Marines in Korea”). The article was the result of more than two years of investigation on my part. The twist and turns of the story itself illuminate a number of disturbing realities not only about a clear governmental cover-up, but also about the state of commercial journalism today in the post 9/11 world.
The story received no follow-up national media attention after it was published. The Pentagon press corps ignored it. In contrast, it did receive widespread follow media coverage in Lamb’s home state of West Virginia. The major newspaper in the state, The Charleston Gazette, covered the story on its front page and called for a congressional investigation of the case in an editorial. None of that has yet prompted the Defense Department or Navy Department (which supervises the Marine Corps) to mount an honest investigation into the war-crime allegations.
In fact, Lamb had transmitted these allegations to the Marine Corps, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and DoD in 2001. The case was never made public until my story was published in 2003. Even today the Marines have still never publicly announced any aspect of this war crime investigation.
Despite its own official words and assurances by the Marine Corps inspector general that the service would look into the incident in a preliminary investigation to determine if evidence existed which would warrant a full investigation of this case, nothing has happened.
To date, the Marine Corps and the Navy have refused to reopen the case despite overwhelmingly compelling evidence that they should - even after publication of my November 2003 story that contained additional evidence concerning the Seoul massacre. Nor has the NCIS take action yet, despite the fact that it is legally obligated to investigate homicide cases within the Navy and even created its own “cold case” squad in the mid-1990s to investigate alleged cases like this.
The Marine IG did little in the way of an honest preliminary investigation. Their previously secret whitewash amounted to nothing less than a continuing cover-up of the incident.
The most damning single piece of evidence, among many, are statements made by multiple Marines of the accused unit * Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Moreover, a unit “After Action Report” written in February 1951 refers directly to the battle for Seoul and states the following:
“The killing of prisoners is something that should be watched. We had some of that going on.”
Although my story exposed the Marine Corps’ secret whitewash investigation of the war crime case, to date, the Marine Corps has had exactly two words to say on the record: “No comment.”
The facts of this story are clear. Americans should demand that their government tell them the truth, not cover it up.
The NCIS should reopen this case and do an honest murder investigation. The cover-up that has gone on for the past 53 years dishonors all Marines and soldiers who take an oath to defend and protect the American people and our Constitution.
Longabardi is a national award-winning independent TV producer and investigative journalist based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com. ©2003 Eric Longabardi.
12-19-03, 07:16 AM
U.S. News & World Report
November 3, 2003
SCOTT DEPOT, W.VA.--There are some things a man simply can't forget. For Carl Lamb, it's the image of bullet-riddled bodies piled one on top of
another in the basement of a battle-scarred building in the middle of a
burning hell called Seoul. The Marine Corps veteran can still see the
bodies of the North Korean prisoners of war, he says, like it was
yesterday, the memory of what he believes was an American war crime
seared in his mind by years of nightmares and flashbacks. After all this
time, more than half a century later, Lamb wants answers. But he has
little hope, he says, that his government will ever give him any. "They
couldn't deal with it back then," he says, "and they can't deal with it
Late one evening this July, Lamb talked about his 53-year odyssey and a
gnawing sense that he will never know the truth. The neighbor's dogs had
long ceased their plaintive howling, and the rabbits felt safe once more
to hop between the old cars dying in the long grass outside his trailer
home. Lamb is a big man with rugged features and hands the size of a
basketball player's. The plywood floor creaked under his large feet as
he sorted through his military records and the dog-eared photos of the
marines he served with in Korea. He's 74 now, his memory sharp, and he
speaks with the precision of a man fearful he will leave something out
or be misunderstood.
Lamb's life isn't the stuff of a Norman Rockwell painting. Born
dirt-poor in Arkansas, the teenage farm boy found his way into the
nightmare of the Korean War, a kid soldier who finally made it back not
quite whole--a wandering jobber who didn't suffer fools lightly, moved
from place to place as the mood took him, all the while a grim image of
death burned into his brain like a brand. To put it in its plainest
terms, what turned Carl Lamb's life inside out, at least by his account,
was murder--murder of the most coldblooded type. It was late September
1950, the circumstances a vicious street-to-street battle for Seoul, the
South Korean capital. The bodies--naked POWs, their threadbare uniforms
dumped unceremoniously on the floor beside them--were stacked in the
basement of an old hotel, the Bando, Lamb believes. Who shot the North
Koreans or why, Lamb doesn't know. He didn't see it happen. What he saw,
he says, was the aftermath of the slaughter, and it made him sick--sick
U.S. News has attempted to piece together what happened on that terrible
fall day in Seoul. The magazine's investigation did not corroborate all
of the details of the incident Lamb described, but it turned up
compelling evidence that prisoners were killed in Seoul. The magazine
unearthed old court-martial records in which a marine testified that a
sergeant with a machine-gun squad, a close friend, killed some North
Korean prisoners. The sergeant belonged to Easy Company of the 2nd
Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment--the same outfit Lamb believes murdered
the POWs he says he later saw. But there is no reference to the Bando in
the testimony. Separately, U.S. News obtained a February 1951 Marine
Corps "after-action" report that refers to the killing of North Korean
prisoners by members of Easy Company. The report strongly suggests that
the killings occurred during the battle for Seoul. Finally, several
former Easy Company marines recall hearing of POWs being killed in a
Seoul hotel. Some in Lamb's company who fought alongside Easy Company
also confirm that he complained at the time about a mass killing of
North Korean prisoners.
"Something traumatic." Still, there are no easy answers. Many of those
who fought in Seoul now are in their 70s and 80s. Memories differ on
details, and the full truth may never be known. In mid-2001, the Marine
Corps's Office of Inspector General, acting on a complaint from Lamb,
opened an investigation. Investigators closed the case last year, saying
that they could not substantiate his allegations that prisoners had been
murdered in a Korean hotel. While the "sincerity" of Lamb's allegation
that "he viewed something traumatic" is not disputed, the inspector
general said, "our ability to reconstruct specific events that took
place more than 50 years ago was hindered by the passage of time."
That investigation was far from thorough. Investigators made no attempt
to find and interview possible survivors among the eight Easy Company
marines who provided information for the 1951 after-action report
obtained by U.S. News, saying the report was not relevant to Lamb's
allegations. The investigators also failed to examine the court-martial
records the magazine reviewed. And they discounted information from a
former marine who says that, while clearing a large building in Seoul,
he heard a burst of gunfire and then another marine exclaim that he had
just shot several North Korean prisoners in a bathing area. The
inspector general's office appears to have interviewed only 17 of the
more than 500 men in Lamb's Marine battalion. Investigators also
questioned a handful of ex-marines who served as guards at the U.S.
Embassy, which had been located in the Bando Hotel.
Death In The 'Pool'
Carl Lamb was a good marine. A squad leader with Fox Company of the 2nd
Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Lamb killed the enemy, saw too many good
friends die, was wounded, and put his life on the line to help save his
buddies. The battle for Seoul was a major conflict in the early days of
the Korean War, one of the fiercest engagements in the history of the
Marine Corps. Lamb and his fellow marines took ground a foot at a time,
fighting their way through barricaded streets, land mines, heavy-weapons
fire, and North Korean snipers. By the early evening of September 26,
Lamb says, sporadic fighting continued. Fires burned across the city.
Fox Company halted its advance, and Lamb took refuge in a building on a
This, Lamb says, is what happened next: Around 6:30 or 7 on the evening
of the 26th, Lamb heard a burst of automatic gunfire that swelled to a
crescendo, died away, then swelled again. Lamb jumped outside but
couldn't locate the source of the gunfire. The next morning--under a
bright sun, with temperatures in the 60s--Lamb decided to take a look
inside the nearby Bando Hotel.
Lamb says he walked down a stairwell and came upon the bodies of North
Korean prisoners, piled one upon another in what he thought was a small
"swimming pool." The area measured about 15 by 20 feet and held no
water. Scores of spent shell casings littered the tile floor in what was
an eerie makeshift morgue illuminated only by shafts of light from two
tall windows. Even today, Lamb shudders at the recollection: "I could
see three layers of bodies. . . . They had obviously been killed the day
before. Some had moved their bowels. There was excrement all over. . . .
Whoever killed them, they just stood over them and sprayed the pile"
with bullets. Lamb stumbled up the stairs, gasping for air--trying to
get the stench of death from his nostrils.
That Lamb was upset when he confronted his captain, Goodwin C. Groff, is
not in dispute. Groff, Lamb's commanding officer, is now dead. But
several marines remember a heated confrontation between Lamb and Groff.
"Captain, have you seen what is in the hotel?" Lamb remembers asking,
tears streaming down his face. " 'Yes, I've seen it, but I'll not hear
another damn word about it,' " Lamb says Groff replied.
John S. Sullivan, then a private first class in Fox Company, remembers
the confrontation, though his account differs in some respects from
Lamb's. Marines from Easy Company, Fox's sister company, "were marching
the prisoners into a building," Sullivan says, "and there were some
shots, and [Lamb] was screaming, 'They are shooting.' " Groff cut him
off. Sullivan adds: "Everybody on the street heard the two of them."
Sullivan says, however, that he cannot confirm that North Korean POWs
were killed in the hotel.
For many, the confrontation with Groff might have ended the affair. But
Lamb is a man of stubborn determination. He worried back in 1950--and
fears to this day--that Easy Company marines executed the enemy soldiers
he saw in the bathing area. The killings, he says, left him doubting his
beloved Marine Corps--and it showed. In the year that followed, Lamb
says, he was court-martialed for refusing an order to have his men carry
firewood to a superior's tent, hurt his knee in combat, and, finally,
was sent to a hospital, where his physical and mental health were
evaluated. As the years passed, Lamb struggled with his painful past.
Killers. Every war produces atrocities. My Lai still lingers in the
minds of many Vietnam vets and other Americans. In Korea, the United
States had its problems with such crimes, but the North Koreans were
especially skilled at cruelty and sadism--killing defenseless American
POWs and innocent Koreans. James R. Hellman, an Easy Company veteran,
remembers a haunting scene on his way to Seoul from Inchon; during one
half-mile stretch, he passed American and other United Nations prisoners
lying dead in ditches, shot by their North Korean captors. "We were
gaining on them, so they executed the prisoners," he recalled in an
interview. "There were [men] with their hands tied behind their backs
and their heads blown off." Hellman also says he saw the bodies of
Korean "women and children executed and grandparents hanging from
trees." He explains, "You enter an innocent person and come out with
nothing but hatred. So, if something like what Lamb says happened, an
isolated incident where prisoners were shot, I would be surprised, but
it happens. It happens in war."
12-19-03, 07:18 AM
Korean veterans emphasize that taking prisoners was risky business. Some
prisoners faked surrender, then sprang upon marines with hidden weapons.
During the Korean conflict, says Richard A. Caulley, who was an Easy
Company corporal, prisoners usually had to be marched back to the
rear--past mines, snipers, and deadly ambushes. "I risked my life to
take them back," he recalls, "risked mines and everything else." Then:
"I had to go back and try and find my unit. It seemed like a lifetime."
From Arkansas To Over There
To this day, Lamb can't remember when he didn't want to be a marine. He
fell in love with the corps as a boy, while watching a newsreel of
marines fighting their way across the Pacific in World War II. He
admired the kind of man who could charge head-on into a hail of
machine-gun fire. The Marines, the young man thought, always did what
was right: honor, courage, Semper Fi.
It's easy to see why the Marines Corps held such allure for Lamb. He was
born in a two-room shack in Jacksonville, Ark., in November 1928, the
son of a sharecropper. His childhood revolved around working the farm.
He didn't much like school and was expelled once. By age 15, he was
asking his father, Fred, to let him enlist in the Marine Corps. His
father refused, urging him to finish high school. He tried but dropped
out after getting through just the 10th grade.
For a few months, the young man worked as an apprentice boilermaker,
then tried his hand as a tire retreader. After hitchhiking to Houston
with a brother to work in the shipyards, he returned home to Arkansas to
ask his father's permission, once again, to join the Marines. The old
man relented, figuring that World War II was nearly over and his boy
wouldn't wind up dying on a foreign beach. His induction papers were
signed in August 1945, in Little Rock. Carl Lamb was 16 years old.
The limitations of his world until then were clear, reflected in his
Marine Corps paperwork. It showed two years of high school education and
his work as a farmhand. Under occupation, Lamb, a skinny 6-foot-2, wrote
in big block letters, "FARM HAND, GENERAL," noting that for 12 years he
had "PLOWED, HARROWED, SOWED AND HARVESTED CORN, SURGUM, PEAS,
WATERMELON, CANTELOPE AND ALL VEGETABLES, DROVE A TEAM OF MULES, MILKED
COWS, RAN FARM (60 ACRES) IN ABSENCE OF FATHER." His hobbies: "WOODWORK,
MODEL PLANES, HUNTING."
Lamb's next stop was boot camp. Then it was off to sea school in San
Diego, where he worked on the USS Fargo CL-106 cruiser. By 1949, he had
made sergeant, scaring the bejesus out of raw recruits as a drill
instructor at Parris Island, S.C. There, he says, he first learned how
to lead men. "Follow me!" became his credo. Lamb had found his calling.
His performance reviews from then on confirmed a single fact: Carl Lamb
was an excellent marine.
Korea exploded the following year. In July 1950, three weeks after he
married his girlfriend, Nancy Kennell, whom he had met at a polka dance
in Jerome, Pa., Lamb was assigned as an infantry unit leader of Fox
Company. The next month, Fox Company shipped out, destination Korea. On
September 15, the Marines landed at Inchon. Three days later, on the
march to Seoul, Lamb was wounded. Trying to dig a foxhole under enemy
fire, Lamb took a piece of shrapnel in the lower left back. "I put my
hand back, saw the blood," he recalls, "and I began to panic." The wound
wasn't serious. Lamb rejoined his men on the front lines the next day.
But the march to Seoul began to take a toll on Lamb. A few days before
reaching Seoul, Lamb says, he witnessed a superior officer torturing a
North Korean prisoner during an interrogation. The prisoner had a bullet
wound in each arm, and the officer stuck his thumbs in both holes, then
shook the prisoner violently, "trying to get him to talk." Lamb watched
another officer execute an elderly, wounded Korean, he says, shooting
the man three times above the ear. Lamb, stunned, kept his rage inside.
Before long, Lamb's unit was fighting in the streets of downtown Seoul,
then a city of more than 1 million. James F. Baxter, another unit leader
with Fox Company, remembers Lamb's actions vividly. Under fire, Lamb and
three other marines threw Baxter on an old door and dragged him to an
aid station after a sniper's bullet tore away a chunk of his buttocks.
Lamb also helped save a wounded medic. "One of the blessings of my
life," says Baxter, also a World War II veteran, "was serving with him."
Lamb, Baxter says, was of "the finest moral and physical character of
any man I ever served with."
The bloody battle to retake Seoul for the South Koreans spanned only a
few days, but many parts of the city were reduced to rubble. The North
Koreans placed snipers in the buildings along the city's streets, then
improvised barricades, some piled 8 feet high with rice bags filled with
dirt and reinforced with debris--carts, barrels, streetcar rails,
anything they could find. The roads were mined; the North Koreans were
armed with antitank guns and heavy machine guns. The Soviet newspaper
Pravda compared the scene to the Russian defense of Stalingrad in World
War II. "This was a very bitter war, like any civil war, and, up to that
time, this was its worst battle," recalls retired Brig. Gen. Edwin
Simmons, a Marine historian who fought for the city that September with
the 3rd Marine Battalion. "The fighting in Seoul was very fierce, close
range, and a very hard fight."
Details of the fighting remain etched in the minds of those in the thick
of it. "We were taking fire all through Seoul, going from roadblock to
roadblock," recalls Peter L. Heckenlaible, a corporal at the time.
Robert N. Hortie, then a private first class, remembers shaking in
terror. "There was fear in our eyes," he says, "because we were not used
Progress was slow. The 1st Marines had gained no more than 1,200 yards
on September 26, according to Marine Corps reports. It was during this
battle that marines from Easy Company recall taking heavy fire from a
large building, now believed to be the old, eight-story Bando Hotel. The
hotel figures prominently not just in Lamb's account but in the stories
of other marines. "There was sniper fire coming from the hotel," says
Donald F. Gillespie, a squad leader. "We had a bazooka man and everybody
else putting everything into it." Orders were given to take the hotel to
suppress the fire. Several marines were ordered inside, among them Cpl.
Charles N. Garabedian, now 72. Garabedian describes a hellish, dangerous
moment. Marines rushed through the building, going from room to room,
bursting in on the North Korean forces shooting from the windows.
Several marines were wounded, he says, as the squads ran through the
hallways, killing some of the North Koreans. Garabedian recalls being on
the second floor of the building. He set up by a window and had a view
up and down the building's staircase. As some marines continued to clear
out the building, others took prisoners down the stairwell to another
marine in a bath area. There were about 12 prisoners. The marine in
charge was guarding them with his Browning automatic rifle. All were
forced to strip to make sure none still had weapons.
Gunfire inside the building began to subside, Garabedian says, when he
heard a sudden burst and crouched down, afraid that one of the prisoners
had regained a weapon. "It scared the hell out of me," he recalls. "I
said, 'Hey, what's going on?' Then I just peeked around the corner to
see what had happened." Garabedian says the man guarding the prisoners
walked into the hallway and snapped, "I shot those sons of *****es."
Garabedian, who spent more than two decades in the Marine Reserve, says
he doesn't remember who that marine was. But he's convinced, he says,
that this was not a war crime, though he concedes he doesn't know why
the marine killed the prisoners--whether the marine was rushed by them,
accidentally opened fire, or did so unprovoked and intentionally. A
Marine chaplain who saw the dead prisoners "made a big stink about it,"
Garabedian recalls, "but to us, who were in this life-or-death
situation, we took it in stride because we had won a battle."
Marine veterans from Fox and Easy companies who fought in Seoul told
U.S. News they remember hearing of only one shooting incident involving
POWs in a hotel. Garabedian believes that the incident he described
involved the same prisoners whom Lamb says he saw the next day, the
27th. There are similarities in their accounts: a bath area, the bodies
stripped naked and sprayed with bullets. But Lamb says the prisoners he
saw were in the basement of the hotel--not on the second floor.
12-19-03, 07:19 AM
A former staff sergeant in Fox Company, Arthur Farrington, says that
nobody doubted Lamb when he complained about the killings. Farrington
told U.S. News that he and others watched several marines march a group
of prisoners into the hotel and soon after heard a burst of shooting.
"It was done," he told Marine Corps investigators two years ago.
"Somebody shot them." Although he says he never saw the prisoners'
bodies and differed with Lamb on some details, Farrington told
investigators that he "firmly" believed that Easy Company marines had
killed the POWs. According to a transcript of his testimony, he
remembers telling other marines in Seoul in September 1950: "My God,
they've killed all those prisoners over there." He added in the
interview with investigators: "That's what everybody was telling me."
Many marines, in both Fox and Easy companies, talked about the purported
killings in the days that followed, increasing the speculation about who
had killed the prisoners and why. One former Fox Company marine, Donald
Pettit, who was wounded and evacuated before the battle for Seoul, says
he later heard reports of the POW killings while passing through 2nd
Battalion headquarters on the way back to the front lines. Samuel L.
McGowin, then a private first class with Easy Company, says he heard of
the incident while recuperating in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland
from a gunshot wound, but he says he was told the shootings took place
on a higher floor.
Settling a score.
Easy Company's Capt. Charles Fredrick recalls "a fight
between some marines" and either "soldiers or civilians in a building."
But, he adds, "I don't know if they were prisoners or not." Fredrick
says he has always thought the incident involved another Marine company.
Many other Easy Company marines remember hearing about a POW killing,
but their recollection of events is clouded by the passage of time.
When a reporter called James Huebner, for instance, the former sergeant
said it was difficult to remember an event that occurred half a century
ago. He later dug up his old papers and consulted a letter that he had
written to his mother on Sept. 29, 1950, just three days after the
alleged POW killings. The letter showed, he said, that a machine gunner
had described to him the capture of about 30 "gooks" by marines, who
then turned them over to South Korean forces. The enemy soldiers were
"taken to the swimming pool in the basement" of the hotel, Huebner said,
citing his letter. He said the machine gunner told him that the
prisoners were killed by South Korean forces "settling an old score."
But, he emphasized, he had no direct knowledge of such an atrocity.
Despite these assumptions, others in Easy and Fox companies say they did
not see any South Korean forces in that immediate area. After Seoul,
Lamb and his squad would fight other battles, but he was forever
changed, he says--his psyche a prisoner of those few moments in hell, in
the basement of the Bando Hotel.
Reopening Closed Wounds
Lamb was honorably discharged in November 1951 for medical reasons. He
suffered from what physicians at the time called "battle fatigue." The
doctors diagnosed it this way: "Anxiety reaction, chronic, moderate."
When he returned home, all he could talk about was the war. "He was a
completely changed person," says his wife during a telephone interview
from the couple's other home in Boswell, Pa. "He was very difficult to
get along with. He'd talk about the bad things he saw, and he'd break
down." As he roamed the country, bouncing from job to job, town to town,
she and their two sons and daughter couldn't keep up with him; the Lambs
separated for a time.
Lamb kept trying to put it all down on paper, to purge his demons in a
book. His first version, completed in 1965, was called The Land of the
Morning Calm. An agent couldn't sell it. In the mid-1970s, he tried
again, but no publisher wanted the story. In 1999, he paid to publish
what he says is a purely factual account of his Korean War experiences,
although he changed many names of combat buddies and called himself
"Sam." He titled this effort The Last Parade! The book had little
impact, but Lamb pushed on. In March 2001, he sent a letter to the
Defense Department demanding an investigation. In July, the then Marine
Corps inspector general, Maj. Gen. Paul Lee, opened a "preliminary"
inquiry, giving Lamb hope. However, last February, the inspector
general's office informed him that it couldn't "substantiate" his
allegations after an "exhaustive inquiry."
But how exhaustive was it?
The investigative files, obtained after Freedom of Information Act
requests, indicate that the inspector general's staff interviewed only
two marines from Easy Company. The 200-or-so-member unit fought inside
the Bando Hotel and on the streets in that area, and some might have had
direct knowledge of the alleged POW killings. Most of the marines
interviewed were with Fox Company and were only able to validate Lamb's
actions that day. Some confirmed Lamb's assertion that he had had a
heated argument with a superior officer after leaving a hotel, but they
had not been inside the building themselves, they said, and had no
direct knowledge of any POW killings.
The Marine Corps investigators failed to pursue a critical piece of
evidence: the after-action report for Easy Company, written on Feb. 15,
1951. The 10-page report covered combat operations that began with the
Sept. 15, 1950, landing at Inchon and included later fighting in Seoul.
It was based on the recollections of eight Easy Company marines and was
written by a captain, Kenneth A. Shutts. The report contains this
question: "How long did it take you to go through Seoul?" The detailed
response includes this damaging statement on Page 4: "The killing of
prisoners is something that should be watched. We had some of that going
on." The inspector general's staff, the Marine Corps says, made no
attempt to determine if the eight men were alive or dead. U.S. News was
unable to locate any of them but found evidence indicating that several
are now dead, among them a staff sergeant named William G. Ferrigno.
"A toilsome chore." It turns out that Ferrigno was also a defense
witness in a court-martial case that could be relevant to the Bando
Hotel allegations. A machine gun squad leader under Ferrigno was accused
of murdering a South Korean military translator; witnesses said he shot
the man, at point-blank range, with a .45-caliber revolver, while
bivouacked outside Masan, Korea. But there was other startling testimony
in the case that had nothing to do with the translator's killing. It
came from Staff Sgt. Robert P. Cornely, a close friend of the accused.
"Well, in Seoul," Cornely admitted on April 12, 1951, his friend "did
kill some prisoners," the court-martial files show. But, there was no
mention of the Bando Hotel in the court case, and the circumstances of
the killings described by Cornely were not detailed. Cornely died
several years ago.
The accused developed a deep hatred of Asians after being held for more
than three years in Japanese prison camps run by both Japanese and
Korean guards during World War II, according to witnesses. He was
beaten, saw fellow POWs murdered, and weighed 110 pounds when he was
liberated in 1945.
The man, now 81, lives in the Northeast and declined repeated phone
requests to be interviewed for this story. He also did not respond to
two letters written by U.S. News. He was convicted of killing the
translator but later acquitted in a second court-martial, after claiming
temporary insanity. There is no indication that he was interviewed by
the Marine Corps investigators assigned to review Lamb's allegations.
The investigators also paid little heed to information provided by
Charles Garabedian, the Easy Company marine who says he heard a marine
admit to killing POWs inside a hotel. According to the inspector
general's report, Garabedian's account was discounted as being about a
separate incident from the one described by Lamb, noting that "he
[Garabedian] couldn't remember a name, didn't see it take place, and
didn't see the aftermath."
The investigators were skeptical of Lamb and tended to discount his
allegations by noting discrepancies in the sort of details that fade
with time. Lamb, for instance, thought the name of the hotel was
possibly the Chosun. Investigators also noted that the Bando did not
have a "swimming pool," the term Lamb first used to describe the
location of the dead bodies. Lamb's use of the term continued to trouble
them, even after they learned from two former marines assigned to the
embassy, which was located on the fifth floor of the hotel, that there
were Japanese baths in the basement.
The investigators also wrote that Lamb's mental health was in question
following the battle for Seoul. During that time, they said, a military
physician diagnosed him as paranoid after he threatened to tell the
secret of the POW killings. But the investigators, their files show,
failed to note that when he was evaluated at Bethesda Naval Hospital a
short time later in 1951, a doctor called the diagnosis an error,
saying, "No paranoid ideation was evidenced at any time."
Their findings leave no doubt that events were difficult to
reconstruct--"a toilsome chore" is the way the investigators described
it. "Potential witnesses proved difficult to locate," they wrote. "Those
who were located demonstrated that the passage of time takes a costly
toll on one's faculties and memory." The report described how one
witness "fell ill prior to interview" and how another "suffered seizures
12-19-03, 07:20 AM
Asked by U.S. News to grant an interview and explain the inquiry more
fully, the inspector general's office declined but answered many
specific questions through a Marine Corps spokesman, Maj. Douglas
Powell. Noting that the after-action report covered several battles in a
four-month period, Powell says that the "unspecific comments" about Easy
Company marines' killing prisoners "were not determined to be within the
scope of the investigation and not pursued." He adds, "The investigation
speaks for itself."
Lamb is disappointed with the findings but makes no apologies for his
own fight. Why, he is asked, has he persisted so long, when others would
have buried the past? Sounding much like the drill instructor he once
was, Lamb puts it this way: "Right is right, and wrong is wrong. The
Marine Corps hymn says first to fight for right and freedom and to keep
our honor clean."
"How are you going to keep your honor clean," he asks, "if you bury such
a horrible thing?"