It has been nearly 50 years since Lester Todd was a private on the front lines in Korea, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin. But Todd still won't talk about what happened in Operation Killer because, he says, the Army long ago told him not to.
It was 1951 and American troops were pushing north. Todd was wounded and taken prisoner. After his release, he told Army debriefers: "Operation Killer commenced and we moved against the enemy, killing everything in front of us, including women and children... We killed everything that walked."
The Army hushed up his eyewitness account. In a 1953 memo obtained by CBS News, a senior officer orders Todd's debriefing classified secret because it "might lead to the embarrassment of the United States." The memo goes on to suggest "necessary action be taken to insure [Todd] does not repeat the allegation to other than authorized individuals."
Operation Killer is one of at least three incidents to come to light in the past few weeks which raise serious questions about whether American soldiers deliberately killed civilians during the Korean War.
The most extensive evidence involves an incident at the bridge of No Gun Ri, where both Korean survivors and Army veterans like Ed Daily told the Associated Press civilians were gunned down.
Daily said, "We followed our orders and we fired in there ... to eliminate the problem."
It was early in the war, inexperienced American troops were in retreat, and there were reports North Korean soldiers had infiltrated the stream of refugees. Civilians were to be "considered as enemy."
"We would shoot all of them," said Daily. "There would be ... no survivors."
After first saying there is no evidence of a massacre, the Army has now launched an inquiry, and Defense Secretary Cohen tells CBS News that inquiry could go far beyond the incident at No Gun Ri.
"We're going to focus on the No Gun Ri first," said Cohen, "and then we'll see if there's substance to the other allegations and take it case by case."
South Koreans say another massacre occurred at a temple where 83 civilians were strafed by American planes and shot by GIs.
All wars are ugly, but the Korean War may turn out to be even uglier than we thought.