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The Bridge at No Gun Ri

“I didn’t care whether they understood me, then I said, ‘Hello, hello,’ again, soldiers climbed out of their foxholes and looked at me, they couldn’t understand, but they knew where I came from, they just looked at me”

Seventy years ago, on August 15, 1945, the Japanese Occupation of Korea ended along with the Second World War. The joy of liberation was short-lived, as the Korean War ensued in 1950. The No Gun Ri Massacre occurred early in the War, lasting from July 26 to 29, 1950. An estimated number of more than 250 Korean civilians and refugees were killed by the US Army near a railroad bridge in the village of No Gun Ri. The US Army claimed that they were ordered to fire because they suspected North Korean infiltration of the refugee groups. Molly Gaudry’s poem “The Bridge at No Gun Ri” pieces together reports from the Massacre, lifting lines and fragments from the book The Bridge at No Gun Ri (2001), written by four AP journalists whose news reports about the mass killing won them a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting in 2000. The long block of text filled with names of the victims looks as if it is a field of gravestones. The poem commemorates the dead and confronts the mass killing that was long disputed or simply regarded as an unfortunate byproduct of justice-enforcement.

—Emily Yoon

Pop took me to the train in Pottsville, all he said was, Don’t worry about us, we’ll be all right, We’d get them to love the regiment, I can tell you that many people back then dreamed of some miracle, some revolution, to happen, after years of living under extortion they wanted a change in the world, I thought, I can have a real Korean education, I could learn that Korean people could actually be better than Japanese people,Dissatisfaction with the division of the country grows, I read Romeo and Juliet, and it was an entirely different world, Kal Keun-ok ? 85, It was a lawless world where the police were the law, Byon Boon-dan ? 77, North Korean communists began invading across the 38th Parallel at four A.M. today, Suh Moon-sam ? 76, Believe that if it appears the South Koreans cannot contain or repulse the attack, United States forces should be used even though this risks Russian countermoves, Park Soon-im ? 73, If we let Korea down, the Soviet Union will keep right on going and swallow up one piece of Asia after another, Ahn Moon-sam ? 66, the Near East would collapse and no telling what would happen in Europe, Chung Chang-keun ? 65, I went over and increased my insurance to $10,000 dollars the 1st of July, if I do get bumped off the family will be sitting purty, Kim Bu-duk ? 63, To back away from this challenge, in view of our capacity for meeting it, would be highly destructive of the power and prestige of the United States, Han Yong-kwon ? 63, I could not help being amazed at the manner in which this great decision was being made, Chun Kyong-moon ? 63, We were as surprised as Stalin and Kim Il Sung at Truman’s orders to go into action in Korea, Kim Il-soon ? 61,I remember distinctly MacArthur’s headquarters telling us as we left Japan that as soon as the North Koreans saw us they would run, Kang Soon-hee ? 61, Korean curiosity is great, many of the white-clad persons Sohn Yong-woon ? 61 are farmers or refugees just taking a look, Kim Hal-reh ? 60,People in white clothes Lee [                 ] ? 59 were strafed three to four miles south of Yusong, Sohn Jong-eui ? 59, The Army has requested that we strafe all civilian refugee parties Kim Kan-ran ? 58 that are noted approaching our positions, Lee Yi-moon ? 57, to date we have complied with the Army request in this respect, Lee Soon-kum ? 57, Red infiltration has been reduced to manageable proportions and can Lee Sung-nam ? 57 in short order be expected to approach zero, Hasty U.S. intervention was one of the most ill-conceived decisions Koo Chul-dong ? 56 in the history of the American military establishment, Park June-ha ? 55, Withdrawal could discredit U.S. foreign policy and undermine confidence in American military capabilities, Kang Sung-keun ? 55, In an area once cleared of civilians, Kim Sool-yi ? 55, anyone in civilian clothing may be shot, Kim Dal-je ? 54, all Koreans, Chang Man-im ? 54, North and South, Kal Yong-yi ? 53, look alike to the Americans, Park Hee-won ? 53, soldiers sometimes pot shot at suspicious white clad figures, Ahn Il-joon ? 52, Lee Ja-sun ? 52, Lee Bok-yong ? 51, Chang Bong-rye ? 50, Chung Pan-suk ? 50, Lee Myo-sun ? 50, how many people stayed too long in their thatched roofed cottages is not known, Yang Eun-nyon ? 48, Thousands of men, Cho Jong-koo ? 49, women, Lee Young-ja ? 48, and children Sohn Soon-nam ? 48 remained in the division area, and they were not enemy agents, Chung Sun-boon ? 47, No refugees to cross the front line, Park Young-soon ? 47, fire everyone trying to cross lines, Kim Dae-ak ? 46, use discretion in case of women Kim Kap-yon ? 45 and children, Lee Soon-suk ? 45, Here we are advancing into combat, and he’s worried about this farmer’s Han Dae-gil ? 44 beans, Suh Byong-jik ? 44, The Americans do not recognize Koreans as human beings, Hwang Doo-chok ? 44, The civilians Kim Yoon-boon ? 43 were so scared Sohn Hyun-koo ? 43, Hwang Eun-yon ? 43, Lim Kan-nan ? 43 and they had the North Koreans behind them, and they didn’t know where to go, Kim Duk-joo ? 42, We didn’t touch the civilians, Yang Ke-soon ? 42, we had enough enemy to shoot at in uniform without shooting civilians, Park Ne-eung ? 41, When darkness came, all around soldiers started shooting, Park [                        ] ? 41, it was useless so I took cover and waited out the night, The kids were scared and they were firing Kim Jam-sun ? 41 all night long, It was a madhouse, We were actually firing on our own men, We started running down the tracks, scattering like hell, They said stay off the road and low on the ground, so I was crawling with my machine gun, I didn’t know what was going on, and you could look over there and there was all this white clothing, Moon Kwang-se ? 39, The South Korean puppet clique has rejected all methods for peaceful reunification proposed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sohn Ssang-dae ? 39, People overflowed the road, Lee Kyong-yoel ? 39, spilling onto barley fields, Kim Dong-eui ? 39, women carried their bags and cooking utensils on their heads, Park Choon-duk ? 39, children walked barefoot, Park Choon-duk ? 39, we also saw some injured soldiers limping along, Yang Mal-soon ? 38, with their legs and heads bandaged over, Kim Choon-suk ? 38, The rice grows hearing the footsteps Nam Hee-yong ? 38 of the farmer, Hwang Pal-keun ? 37, The GIs seemed to go wild whenever they saw women, Lee Bok-soon ? 36, whether they were old women Han Dae-son ? 36, or young girls, Suh Sang-kook ? 36, they tried to grab them, Chang Jae-sung ? 36,we girls didn’t dare walk in the open, Kim [                 ] ? 35, I was happy, Park Chil-bong ? 35, I thought that if I went to the south, I’d see big towns, I always wanted to see big towns, Kim Chong-suk ? 34,I didn’t know what a war was, Park Won-jong ? 33, I didn’t know what being a refugee meant, Chung Jo-woong ? 32, There must be some misunderstanding, we’re not Communists, we’re innocent villagers, Cho Hong-koo ? 30, some of us work for the government, please tell this to the American soldiers,Don’t look up, Min Young-ok ? 30, if you do, Kim Chong-yol ? 30, the soldiers will shoot you, Kim Chang-keun ? 30,The woman’s head was like the flattened body of a rat run over by a tire, Kim Bong-joon ? 29, I said, ‘Please help us,’ he seemed to sympathize, he said, ‘I’m sorry for you poor people,’ and he went away, as if he couldn’t do anything for us, Park Bong-woo ? 29, I couldn’t see a thing, like walking in darkness, Kim Im-soon ? 28, it looked like heaven crashed on us, I ran to my mother, I found her moaning, breathing her last gasps, part of her head was gone, I heard the ‘ping-ping’ sounds of bullets flying past me, people fell around me Han Kyong-yi ? 28 trying to run away from the explosions, Kim Byong-hyun ? 28, suddenly there seemed to be no one I could recognize, Chung Woo-young ? 28, I saw the intestines coming out of his belly, they were blue, Kim Ae-shim ? 27, Blood was spurting from a hole in her left breast, she said, ‘Water, water,’ I cannot forget her eyes, did she know it was me, Ban Kyong-ho ? 27, I found a small pool of water in a ditch, Chung Koo-yon ? 27, I fetched water one more time and when I tried to give it to her, Lee Ye-joo ? 27, she stopped breathing, Sohn Myong-sook ? 26, They come down pretty low, you could see that star on that plane real easy, about three planes, they dropped a bomb, Kang Chang-gil ? 26, that’s where a lot of the people Chun Joon-pyo ? 23, Kim Chang-yong ? 23, Bae Jong-woon ? 23, Park Chang-ha ? 23, Hwang Jae-young ? 23, got hit with shrapnel, a lot of them got killed, they were kind of shortening up the zone and hit them, Kim Sam-jo ? 22, they hit us too, Lee Young-ja ? 21, some of our troops, It was like a hornet’s nest in there, it was civilians Koo Hoi-woo ? 21 trying to hide, one of my buddies got hit, shot off part of his privates, Min Eun-soon ? 21, Pieces of concrete hit my face, I tumbled and crawled over the dead people, and I don’t know how I made it to the big tunnels, Park Oh-soon ? 21, The American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies, Chang Shi-hun ? 21, Park Hee-soon ? 20 , They were running toward us and we opened fire, we understood that we were fighting for these people, but we had orders to fire on them and we did, Han Soon-suk ? 20, She came running toward us, you should have seen guys trying to kill that little girl with machine guns, Chung Koo-ok ? 20, Our orders were not to let any refugees through any line at all, Song Jae-ok ? 19, I saw limbs torn apart, I even saw heads separated from bodies, Kim Ke-soon ? 18, it was dark because of the smoke and dirt cloud and debris, Chung Young-hee ? 17, I stumbled on bodies, then I heard gunshots again, and I hurried into the big tunnels, Kim Woo-jae ? 17, Mother couldn’t stand up, so she dragged herself on the ground, Kim In-sun ? 17, I kept tripping over bodies Ahn Bok-dol ? 17 because I couldn’t see well, then I saw the baby with his eyes wide open, my mother said, ‘Leave him there, he’s already dead,’ Kim Han-dong ? 17, The entrance to the tunnel was so thick with bodies strewn everywhere, Chung Myong-rae ? 16, I told them my parents were not bad people, but of course, they didn’t seem to understand me Yang Hae-young ? 16 because I saw people killed Chun Young-ja ? 16 by the GIs,They didn’t appear to be people Hong Suk-tae ? 16 who would kill fellow human beings, Christ Almighty, they were just screaming, Hwang Yon-hwa ? 15, who wouldn’t scream, Chun Young-ja ? 15, the fear, Chung Jin-ok ? 14, I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, what the hell are we into,’ Han Wol-soon ? 14, There was women, Kim Il-yong ? 14, children, Cho Chong-rye ? 14, old people, Kim Jong-woong ? 13, we had to eliminate them, Lee chang-shik ? 13, our orders was to start opening fire and when we did, Chung Ok-hee ? 13, there wasn’t nothing standing but a couple of cows, Park Sang-ja ? 13, To me it was like one of these Sohn Hyun-koo ? 13 mistakes where, ‘Jesus, stop it, turn it off,’ Won Ho-yol ? 11, they tried to get out but they couldn’t, We just annihilated them, If you ever saw them, Sohn Im-soon ? 11, they were wonderful people, Cho Nam-yol ? 11, Half her head was gone, Kim Ko-mee ? 10, I said, ‘Hello, hello,’ that was the only English word I knew, I said more loudly, ‘Hello, hello,’ I cried and began explaining that both my father and mother were dead, I didn’t care whether they understood me, then I said, ‘Hello, hello,’ again, soldiers climbed out of their foxholes and looked at me, they couldn’t understand, but they knew where I came from, they just looked at me, Cho Kil-jin ? 9, at what they had done, Suh Byong-gon ? 9, They gave us something to eat, maybe chocolate, but I didn’t eat it, Han Jong-ja ? 9, I became determined to save my remaining child, I saw an American soldier, Chung Soon-ja ? 8, carrying his rifle, Kim Duk-shi ? 8, he fired at us, Lee Bong-ja ? 7, it was like some big hammer slamming my body, Chung Jong-ja ? 7, I fell back and I thought this was the end of my life, then I lifted myself a little bit and looked back, Chung Soon-oh ? 7, blood was spreading from the small body of my child, Chung Chong-tae ? 7, I lay still, my mind blank, two soldiers came over, a fat one and a tall one, they looked down at us Hwang Kyong-ja ? 6 and talked to each other, later more soldiers came and they wrapped my son in a white bag, Yang Hae-yong ? 6, I just don’t know what got into their heads to kill my boy like that, Chang Myong-ja ? 5, She kept muttering to Buddha, Lee Jong-son ? 5, in her dying breath she was praying for a good life in the next world Hwang Chong-soo ? 4 for herself Park Hwa-soon ? 4 and her two children, Park Chang-won ? 4, To say they was firing out, I don’t know, we was laying down such a barrage out there no one could tell, Chung Koo-pil ? 4, Mortar fire and patrols eliminated the threat of guerrilla activities from nearby villages, Lim Soon-ja ? 3, Get patrols out to your front and flank Bae Soon-bok ? 3 and contact the enemy and maintain this contact, My cousin and I sat together Han Myong-soo ? 3 with a blanket over us Chung Soon-rye ? 3 and suddenly I felt something like hot water flowing down my face Cho Dae-yon ? 3 and I remember seeing a village woman, Kim Kook-hun ? 3, she said Cho Nam-gak ? 2 something like, ‘Poor child, what happened to your face,’ I crawled to the water but when I tried to drink it fell through my face, Chung Hyun-mok ? 2, Why must the State Department insist that only the lives of American boys be used, Park Sun-nye ? 2, why cannot other peoples of the earth Suh Jong-hoon ? 2 be used also Chung Koo-hee ? 2 to help create the necessary seawall of blood Lee Jong-sup ? 2 and flesh Suh Kan-ran ? 1 and steel Chung Koo-sung ? 1 to hold back the communist hordes, A mass of white, Park Boot-dul ? 1, they all blended together Chung Jin-tae ? 1 like newspaper on top of newspaper, Suh Byong-kyun ? 1, There were quite a few slaughtered there, Han Kum-suk ? 1, but you didn’t know until Chung Young-sook ? 1 you got down there and seen all the bodies Park Young-hyun ? 1 at the mouth of the tunnel, I sometimes think I hear the whispers of the ghosts, Sohn Dae-shik ? 1, not human voices, Hong Sung-mee ? 8 months, but they seem to talk like the wind, Han Min-suk ? 6 months, it used to terrify me, Chun Tae-sung ? 5 months, but not any longer, Park Chang-ki ?age unknown, the hills and tunnel look empty, Oh [                     ] ?age unknown, but in fact they’re filled with the spirits of the dead, Park Byong-shik ?age unknown, [Park No-myong, posthumously named] ?age unknown, [Cho Seung-yon, posthumously named] ?age unknown. . . .