My Lai – US Atrocity Should Never be Forgotten

It was during the US imperialist intervention of the Vietnam War that one of the most shockingly blatant episodes of more recent US war crimes took place. It was named, The Mỹ Lai Massacre.

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On 16th March, 1968, that US soldiers from Company C, Ist Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, murdered 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians. The slain included men, women, children and small infants. Some of the females were gang-raped and their bodies then mutilated.

Although, during a subsequent investigation, 26 soldiers were charged with criminal offences, only one, Company C Platoon leader, Lieutenant William Calley Jr, was ever convicted. Calley was first given a life sentence which was then commuted to three and a half years under house arrest.

My Lai and My Khe are two hamlets of the village known as Son My in Quang Ngai province. The US military used the slang name, Pinkville to refer to the area. This term was originally used as a title for the outrage. Later, the Pinkville Massacre became known as the Massacre at Songmy. Today, the atrocity is referred to as the My Lai Massacre in the US media and the Son My Massacre in Vietnam.

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Reports from the terrible events of that day began to filter out into the public domain, prompting outrage across the globe. There was a marked increase in opposition to the Vietnam War, by citizens of the US, when they came to learn of what had taken place at My Lai. Such was the moral decrepitude in the US political system, that three servicemen who had tried to prevent to massacre were ostracized by Congressmen. It was thirty years later before the men were honoured by the US military for their actions that day when they shielded non-combatants from harm in a war-zone.

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The next photo shows 7 years old, Duc Tran Van, who lies wounded having been shot by the rampaging US troops. Rebel Voice wonders why anyone would photograph a wounded child rather than rush to help them. Duc Tran Van survived the massacre.

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In the next photo we can see the terror suffered by the inhabitants of My Lai. Keep in mind that the families and neighbours of those shown here, and perhaps some of those featured, were raped and killed by US soldiers during that hellish time.

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Many of those murdered at My Lai were thrown into water-filled ditches. Others were hiding in such trenches when they were executed by bloodthirsy troops.

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One notable role in the entire matter was that of Warrant Officer, Hugh Thompson Jr, a helicopter pilot from Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion. Thompson witnessed the killings as he was providing air support for the troops.

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The shocked Warrant Officer landed his chopper and rushed to protect the fleeing and wounded villagers. At one point he ordered his crew to open fire on any US troops who attempted to harm the Vietnamese as Thompson rescued them from a bunker where they were hiding in terror. Hugh Thompson flew survivors out from the killing zone to safety during a number of hurried runs. At one point, one of his crew members, Glenn Andreotta, pulled a 4 year old girl from a water-filed ditch. She was taken from danger by the chopper crew.

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Thompson reported all that he had seen and heard at My Lai. His statements were corroborated by his crew and other chopper pilots.

Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and crew members, Glenn Andreotta and Lawerence Colburn were awarded Bronze Stars. When Thompson discovered that the DFC citation included a fabricated account of his rescuing a young girl that day from ‘intense crossfire’, he threw his medal away in disgust. He was later awarded a Purple Heart for other actions during the war.

 It was in March 1998 that the chopper crew’s medals were replaced by the Soldier’s Medal which is the ‘highest the US Army can award for bravery not involving direct conflict with the enemy’.
The citations with the medals state that they were ‘for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai.’ When the US military wanted a quiet ceremony, Thompson insisted that the medals be awarded publicly. The chopper heroes also made contact with the survivors of My Lai.

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The soldiers of Company C left a trail of death as they moved through My Lai. It is shocking to realize that so many people died but yet the troops responsible were never held to account for their crimes. My Lai became known because of the decency and conscience of a few US chopper pilots. The military authorities made no efforts to find and punish the culprits beyond paying lip service to a half-hearted inquiry. We can only guess at how many other such atrocities, on a smaller scale, went unreported. We can also only guess at how many have taken place in any conflict since, that has involved members of the US military.

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Today, the US claim that 347 civilians were killed at My Lai. Yet the memorial at the site of the massacre lists 504 names which is the official figure given by the Vietnamese authorities.

The ages of those innocents named on the memorial range from 1 to 82.

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