American military atrocity remembered

Fifty years ago, on March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers conducted one of the worst atrocities in American military history when they slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese women, children and old men over a four hour attack on a Vietnamese village, in what became known as the My Lai massacre.

Memorials have been held today in My Lai to mark this 50th anniversary. Survivors gathered to describe the horror of what happened March 16th, 1968.

After the extermination of the villagers, the U.S. military tried to cover up indiscriminate killing but in 1969 a 32-year-old freelance reporter named Seymour Hersh revealed a 26-year-old soldier was being investigated for killing more than 100 Vietnamese civilians.

“Determined to understand how young men — boys, really — could have done this, I spent weeks pursuing them,” wrote Hersh, who won a Pulitzer for the story. “In many cases, they talked openly and, for the most part, honestly with me, describing what they did at My Lai and how they planned to live with the memory of it.”

M? Lai Massacre was the Vietnam War mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians, including men, women, children, and infants, in South Vietnam on 16 March 1968.

It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated.

Twenty-six were charged with criminal offenses, but the only U.S. Army soldier convicted was Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company.

Calley was found guilty of killing 22 villagers and given a life sentence, but he served only three and a half years under house arrest before President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence.

Speaking to members of a local Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Georgia in 2009, near the military base where he was court-martialed, Calley made a public apology for slaying the Vietnamese civilians at My Lai almost 40 years earlier.  Lt. William L. Calley Jr., in a photo taken on April 23, 1971, during his court-martial at Fort Benning, Ga.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley said. “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Calley, 74, was a young Army lieutenant when a court-martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971 for killing 22 civilians during the infamous massacre of 500 men, women and children in Vietnam.

The incident prompted global outrage when it became public knowledge in November 1969 and increased to domestic opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War after the shocking episode and cover-up attempts were exposed.

Survivor Pham Thi Thuan at My Lai massacre 50th anniversary event on March 15, 2018. 

“They shot them all. They shot once, they took one minute break, and opened fire for the second, then the third time,” said Pham Thi Thuan, a survivor who lost five people in her family to American gunshots. “My father, who was in his eighties, was injured and tumbling, then crawling. I lay very still in the mud as if I was dead, and I glanced at him. I saw him, but I dared not speak to him, in fear they might hear me and shoot me. I wanted to yell at him to lie down, and maybe they won’t shoot again. But they noticed him and shot half of his head away.”

Three U.S. servicemen who had tried to halt the massacre and rescue the hiding civilians were shunned, and even denounced as traitors by several U.S. Congressmen, including Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Hugh Thompson, Larry Colburn, and Glenn Andreotta, who was killed in action in Vietnam just three weeks after the My Lai massacre.

The massacre was called  “the most shocking episode of the Vietnam War” but Hersh scored another  scoop in 2004, when he revealed the mistreatment of detainees at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.


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