- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

No wonder Edward L. Daily, a 69-year-old veteran of the Korean War, spent Memorial Day in seclusion. Mr. Daily, a linchpin in the Pulitzer Prize-winning account by the Associated Press of an allegedly intentional massacre of refugees during the Korean War, has undergone a shattering experience. He has been unmasked as a fraud.

After the sensational AP report appeared in September 1999, claiming that early in the Korean War, the men of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment were ordered to kill "100, 200, or simply hundreds" of civilians huddled under a railroad trestle near the hamlet of No Gun Ri, Mr. Daily enjoyed a media vogue, emerging as the leading source of expansive, follow-up interviews for a variety of news outlets. The Washington Post devoted a Sunday magazine cover to his testament. NBC's "Dateline" flew the one-time Chevy salesman with Tom Brokaw to the scene of the alleged war crime for further pronouncements. "Just shoot them all," Mr. Daily said, quoting orders. "You heard the order?" asked Mr. Brokaw. "Yes, sir," replied Mr. Daily. "Kill them all?" asked Mr. Brokaw. "Yes, sir," replied Mr. Daily.

The discovery of an American atrocity on a par with the Vietnam War's My Lai massacre was, let's face it, thrilling to the media establishment, and it garnered both the Polk award and a Pulitzer for the AP. Accolades aside, the story spurred both the Pentagon and the South Korean government on to investigations of their own, as yet incomplete.

Two other news organizations, Stripes.com, an Internet edition of The Stars and Stripes, and US News and World Report, also launched investigations. Both concluded last month that there were gaping holes in the AP story, most eye-poppingly, but by no means exclusively, in Mr. Daily's accounts. Blame it on the fog of reporting, but the AP failed to check its sources.

Thanks to the resourceful diligence of Stripes.com and US News, we now know that Mr. Daily never received the sparkling trove of medals he claimed, among them the Distinguished Service Cross, stars of various metals and sundry Purple Hearts, nor was he ever a North Korean prisoner of war. This, of course, rather undermines his story of escape, which was supposed to have followed the battlefield commission that never materialized for the sharpshooter Mr. Daily never was. In fact, Ed Daily was never at No Gun Ri, period. At the time of the alleged crime, the Tennessee teen-ager was with the 27th Ordinance Maintenance Company, keeping equipment buffed and oiled, some 18 miles behind front lines.

The mystery of Mr. Daily why a man would invent himself and the comrades he never knew as war criminals must be left to a Freud or a Dostoevsky to solve. The depths of his delusion are more than most people are equipped to plumb. But there is a more urgent, if more mundane, matter at hand: namely, what to do with the increasingly murky story of No Gun Ri. After all, it is one thing for the AP to have been conned by Mr. Daily once. As the chilling details of Mr. Daily's pattern of war-story deception come out, it appears that the number of people he has fooled would amount to a small army. But now what?

While Mr. Daily has become something of a poster boy for the No Gun Ri story, he was just one of 12 ex-GIs mentioned in the original AP story. But we now know that two other key AP witnesses appear not to have been at No Gun Ri at the time in question, either. According to Army records obtained by US News, Cpl. Eugene Hesselman, the only man the AP quoted as saying he was under orders to fire from an officer (now deceased), had been wounded and evacuated before the alleged massacre. Another soldier, Rifleman Delos Flint, who claimed to have been briefly trapped with the refugees under fire, seems likewise to have been transferred from the area beforehand. No fewer than five others, re-interviewed by US News, dispute the implications of the AP story, with two more sticking to their story of a brief and spontaneous burst of fire aimed toward the people under the bridge.

Conflicting stories aside, it is likely that something terrible happened at No Gun Ri, that in the appalling confusion of war, some refugees were fired upon and killed by American GIs. But all the facts emerging call into question the depiction of the incident as an Army-ordered massacre, a war crime. Why, then, last Friday, when the AP finally carried Mr. Daily's admission that he was not at No Gun Ri, did AP executive editor Jonathan Wolman take the opportunity to say, "We remain confident in the central findings of our coverage"? In light of the facts, in light of the coverage, this is surely not the time to be confident.

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