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.
The magazine's on-line account says a letter provided to the Army by Daily, purportedly written by the Army's adjutant general to Daily's mother in 1950 to report him missing in action, bears a return address that includes a ZIPcode. ZIP codes were not introduced until 1963.
The U.S. News story was released after a lengthy article raising some of the same questions appeared on a Web site for veterans called stripes.com.
The U.S. News articles attack the credibility not only of Daily but of two other veterans who say they witnessed the killings, Delos Flint, of Clio, Mich., and Eugene Hesselman, Fort Mitchell, Ky.
But Hanley, the AP reporter, said U.S. News had ignored some material that supports Flint's and Hesselman's versions of the events.
Hanley also noted that the U.S. News account did not address written orders uncovered by AP that appear to condone the killing of civilians.
Two days before the incident at No Gun Ri, the AP's initial story reported, 1st Cavalry Division headquarters issued an order stating: "No refugees to cross the front line. Fire everyone trying to cross lines. Use discretion in case of women and children."
Still, Army records show that Hesselman was hospitalized for a wound at a time when he said he was at the scene of another alleged massacre of Korean civilians, on Aug. 2, 1950.
The records show he returned to his company on Aug. 11. He hung up on Sun reporter when asked about No Gun Ri.
Determining what really happened at No Gun Ri is extraordinarily difficult. Army records are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, since some were prepared under extreme pressure on the battlefield and others were destroyed in a 1973 fire at a military archive in St. Louis.
The aging veterans themselves naturally have trouble remembering names, dates and details of events that occurred a half-century ago, often under conditions of emotional and physical trauma."It would be very easy either for a person to be in the company and no one remember him, or for someone to claim he was there when he wasn't," said James T. Kerns, 70, of Piedmont, S.C., an H Company machine- gunner who was at No Gun Ri.
But the evidence that Daily was not with H Company in July 1950 is substantial:Records in the Defense Department's National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis indicate that Daily was with the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Company from March 1949 to March 15, 1951, joining H Company the next day, March 16, 1951. That was eight months after the killings at No Gun Ri.Rosters for H Company do not list Daily in 1949 and 1950, when he claimed to be a machine-gunner. But rosters for the 27th Ordnance Maintenance Company, which was nearby but not at No Gun Ri in July 1950, do record him as being with that unit."Morning reports" from both companies - daily accounts of arrivals, departures, injuries and other such events - record him leaving the 27th and joining H Company in March 1951, supporting the other records.
In addition to the records, two former H Company junior officers - William H. Hoffman of Fairfax, Va., and Crawford "Buck" Buchanan of Dothan, Ala., both retired colonels - said they first met Daily at regimental reunions in the 1980s and 1990s.
Both said they would almost certainly recall him among the small number of officers in the company."I never knew Daily. I never heard of Daily," said Hoffman, noting that he was a lieutenant with H Company at a time when Daily claimed he was a second lieutenant and had just escaped as a POW. "I would think I would have known it."
One former soldier, Norman Tinkler, 69, of Glasco, Kansas, says he doesn't believe Daily could have been an H Company machine-gunner as he claims, because Tinkler was a machine-gunner in that unit and would remember him if they had shared that military assignment."Daily wasn't even with our outfit," said Tinkler, whose name does appear on H Company rosters.
But Tinkler said he had no doubt that killings occurred - because he fired off at least 250 rounds and watched civilians fall.