Death and transfiguration

“I motioned for him to get up and put on his shirt. He gestured he would like his cigarettes. I nodded. After he lit one I marched him to the rear where I met the South Korean police detachment that was assigned to the brigade. To a police sergeant I explained I had orders to have the old man shot and that I needed someone to do the job. The sergeant selected a young man not much older than I who spoke English. The young policeman, the old man, and I walked along the road. I was looking for a suitable place to hold the execution. I noticed the policeman was unarmed. I figured I’d let him use my carbine. I found a spot by a shallow river that afforded the privacy I was looking for. We moved down off the road and walked to the near-dry riverbed. The old man asked if he could wash his hands. The policeman translated. I nodded. The old man stood up. He shook his wet hands to dry them. He still didn’t know he was going to be shot. I motioned for him to walk on. About twenty-five feet away he stopped and turned. Why weren’t we behind him? Was he free to go? I offered my carbine to the policeman. He pushed the weapon away and backed off. In broken English he told me he didn’t know how to use it. His voice was shrill. I yelled at him to take it. At this, the old mean realized what was going to happen. ‘No! No!’ he pleaded in Korean. The policeman backed away. I shouted some more. The old man began to cry. Falling to his knees he clasped his hands as if he was praying. Between sobs he continued to plead for his life. Something had to be done. I ordered the old man to stand up. He did. I shot him twice. He fell like a stone.” – Unidentified American corporal, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (quoted by Donald Knox in The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin – An Oral History)

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