View Full Version : USMC War Crime Cover-Up

12-19-03, 06:14 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 bagcam@pacbell.net. ©2003 Eric Longabardi.



12-19-03, 06:16 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
and angry.

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
main street.

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, 06:18 AM
Korean veterans emphasize that taking prisoners was risky business. Some <br />
prisoners faked surrender, then sprang upon marines with hidden weapons. <br />
<br />
During the Korean conflict, says Richard A....

12-19-03, 06:19 AM
A former staff sergeant in Fox Company, Arthur Farrington, says that <br />
nobody doubted Lamb when he complained about the killings. Farrington <br />
told U.S. News that he and others watched several...

12-19-03, 06:20 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?"