1950: The Hill 303 massacre

North Korean regulars on this date in 1950 committed a notorious mass execution upon 41 U.S. prisoners during the Korean War.

The Hill 303 massacre took place upon a 303-meter hill guarding the northern approach to Waegwan. In mid-August of 1950, said hill was defended by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, which narrowly escaped encirclement there by the advancing North Koreans.

Most of them escaped encirclement.

It’s a barely remembered atrocity in a war that America has consigned to forgetfulness; the massacre has seemingly never had anything like a thorough investigation. An indelible horror to the five men* who lived to tell the tale, its narrative outline is crude timelessness itself: holding these 42 U.S. POWs for two days, the North Koreans were themselves pummeled by a counterattack on the fiercely-fought hill;** unable to continue guarding the Americans, their captors fusilladed them.

This indiscriminate mass firing mere minutes ahead of the American approach was far from a thorough affair — hence the survivors, who were subsequently able to point out some of the captured Koreans who took part.

Massacre survivors James Rudd and Roy Day.

As a result of this and other summary battlefield executions, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed a threatening leaflet that was heavily dropped behind North Korean lines, threatening to “hold you and your commanders criminally accountable” according to the recent Nuremberg precedent.

There’s a monument to this gratuitous bloodbath that’s been recently installed, at the site of the shooting which is also nearby to a still-extant U.S. Army base called Camp Carroll. (The stone displays the date “June 25, 1950” — which denotes the start of the war, and not the day of the massacre.)

* Even the exact figures involved are a bit slippery. I believe we have 37 humans killed out of 42 captured, leaving five survivors. Some sources give it as 41 (attempted) executions with four survivors. A private named Frederick Ryan apparently was given last rites and declared dead on the scene but miraculously survived, possibly accounting for the variance.

** Hill 303 changed hands at least seven times.

On this day..

5 thoughts on “1950: The Hill 303 massacre

  1. My Father’s twin brother lavern Gordon was witness and a survivor of a massacre in Korea . The it hurt my father to see his brother suffer because of it and people you to pick on him about it but he passed away 18 months ago and just think he took this to his grave .may he rest in mental piece.

  2. I lived in Seokchong-dong, just outside the front gate of Camp Carrol. I climbed up Hill 303 a few times. Very sobering to live there and walk the banks of the Naktong, knowing that years prior there was a desperate fight happening all around the area. Makes me wonder why we partitioned Korea in 1945 giving the northern half to the Soviets, insuring future conflict. Stupid move..

  3. I have a very vivid childhood memory. This would have taken place in the early 50s. I was maybe 3 or 4. We were taking a walk and as we were passing this house and someone threw a crutch through the window. In my later years I often wondered if the person had been wounded in Korea. BTW, I served two tours in Korea. 76-77 at Camp Ames and 79-80 at Camp Stanley.

  4. It’s a tragedy that the Korean war is barely mentioned. My grandfather fought in it and carried the psychological scars home with him. These poor men. God bless them, they are not forgotten.

    • Adeline, I have written a book you might be interested in, as told to me by one of the survivors of the massacre, called Massacre at Hill 303. It is available at Amazon and B&N, and for an author-signed copy, HILL303.COM

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