The Vietnam war should never have happened, but the released Pentagon files displayed an apparent effort by the Lindsey administration to go to war even without cause. The evil-mindedness of the politicians encroached into the military and right into the very men tasked with saving civilian lives. Soldiers descended on My Lai village and in the whole day that left more than 500 people dead, the army committed the worst war crimes ever recorded in American history. The sad truth is the government wrapped it up for over three decades. The politicians acclaimed the war criminals as heroes and even demonized Hugh Thompson, the only man that stood up to the code of the military uniform that day. Hugh Thomson and his crew became the first ever servicemen to stand up heroically against their own fellow service men. These are the ten most disturbing facts of this sad story.
1. William Calley Threatened to Kill Fellow Soldiers Who Didn’t Kill Civilians
Lt. William Calley, the chief war criminal of the massacre, was the head of the 1st company that landed on My Lai village. When they did not find any combatants, they rounded up innocent villagers in groups of 20 or 30 and lined them up to be shot along a ditch. Larry Colburn, the open-door shooter of the military helicopter that saved civilians later, confirmed that only one-third of the men participated, but the platoon chief himself led them. He said one soldier refused to shoot the injured civilians in the ditch as ordered by Calley prompting the Lieutenant to pull a firearm on him. He threatened him with a court-martial, but the young soldier dropped his weapon and dismissed Calley with the F word. Calley proceeded to shoot the civilians himself. The reports confirmed that he later got a cooperating soldier whom he placed at the ditch specifically to look out for any crawling survivors and shoot them. That ditch ended up with over 170 bodies of old men, women, and children, no combatants were found there.
2. The Massacre Was Just a Fraction of Julian Ewell’s Many Massacres
A US army chief William Westmoreland pleaded for an investigation in what he termed an industrial scale massacre in Vietnam. The release of details on the US army conduct in the Vietnam war showed what looked like genocide from what the government called victory. 58,000 US servicemen died in a war that wiped out 2.5 million Vietnamese civilians’ injuring 5.3 million and displacing 11 million. Julian Ewell, famously known as the butcher of the delta, is probably the worst war criminal that has ever escaped justice.
His unit was the most notorious for shooting everything that moves in which platoons competed to kill people while body counts were used to promote generals. The evil deeds of the army were revealed in a Pentagon investigation that showed an abnormal discrepancy in the body count about weapons seized. Ewell’s platoon had killed more than 11,000 people and took just 700 weapons. The general allegedly fired servicemen for not killing enough men; he was responsible for the largest number of killings in the delta by both aerial and ground attacks. Helicopters scared farmers with warning shots and killed them all if they ran, ground forces would later come in and wipe out the villagers in a bid to get more credit. It was highly attributed to inadequate training and political motivation from Washington which then called the My Lai massacre a “massive victory over Vet Cong.”
3. The Soldiers Molested and Killed Babies and Even Water Buffaloes
According to Lt. Calley, later named rusty after the hearings, the command required him to treat everyone in the area as hostile, a position vehemently denied by the army. Even with the ultimate authority, Calley and his troops shut off their humanity and became the biggest shame the US army has ever employed. The men killed pregnant women and young children, according to the army photographer, Calley himself shot a small injured baby trying to crawl out of a pile of bodies. In the four dark hours, the servicemen killed 182 women including pregnant ones, and 79 children, the rest were old men and some civilians. The deranged group then went for a lunch break before resuming the killings during which they turned on poor water buffaloes which are common in the area riding them with bayonets and killing some of them. It was not a war anymore, just pure bloodlust.
4. The Army Declared the Massacre a Perfectly Executed Mission
Many victims of the My Lai massacre reported extensive rape, torture, and point-blank shootings. The soldiers walked into the village and shot at families having meals and threw grenades at their houses torching the whole village down. However, the three decades of cover-up that followed the massacre actually began immediately after the killings; no one even attempted to question it. The declaration in Washington said that the US army had given the Vet Cong a massive defeat at My Lai.
The contradicting reports and photographs filed after the event by the army photographer, Hugh Thomson, and his two crew members were all dismissed. The commander of the gunship flying above altitude during the attack as well as other pilots and crew in other air support helicopters did not say anything against Calley and his team. The only injury in Mylai for the military was a naughty young soldier that shot himself in the foot. The report said that killings had been carried out by heavy artillery and air strikes, none of which happened that day. Surprisingly, only 200 civilian casualties are reported on the army website.
5. Hugh Thompson Had to Threaten His Fellow Soldiers to Save Civilians
With the deranged soldiers on a rampage, My Lai really needed a mature person and the 25-year-old pilot Hugh Thomson became that man although the army labeled him a traitor. He first noticed a group of villagers leaving the village and was relieved that they were safe only to turn one round and find them all dead. He saw groups of injured women and old men and marked them with smoke canisters for the ground troops to find and help them. When he noticed a group of soldiers shooting at an injured woman on the head, he realized that his fellow countrymen had gone rogue.
He landed at a ditch where most of the killings had happened and found a soldier watching as some people who were not yet dead struggled to leave. The soldier told him he would help the people out of their misery and shot them dead; this was too sickening for Thompson. He then made the most heroic action in American history. Calley’s platoon was heading toward 15 civilians hidden in a bunker, Thompson landed the helicopter between the soldiers and the civilians. He became the first man to declare war on fellow soldiers for humanity’s sake on the battlefield, an act that ruined the rest of his service in the army. He told his crew to kill Calley and his men if they attempted to approach the civilians. The standoff continued until the helicopter flown by Sargent Miller, Thompson’s friend, came and took the civilians to safety. Calley went on to become the hero of American warmongers while Thomson became a national traitor, quite sad how things really work.
6. The First Medals Were Awarded to Buy the Soldiers’ Silence
The army does not hand out medals easily, not for good work leave alone a massacre. However, the military was so determined to sell the story and keep Thompson and his crew quite that they handed them medals for something they never did. Larry Colburn, the only surviving member of the three-man group that saved lives that day, confirmed that throughout their stay in Vietnam, this was the first time the army handed out bronze stars to anyone, not because there were no heroes.
The three, Thompson, Colburn and Glen who died a few weeks after the event were given surprise bronze stars for allegedly saving Vietnamese Civilians in the face of deadly firepower from Vet Cong. Colburn confirmed that some men in the first and second platoon who watched as people were killed or even took part in it were also awarded. It was the perfect description of evil diplomacy.
7. The Army Attempted to Kill All the Soldiers Involved
Giving the people involved in the sham victory a chance to relax and would have put the cover-up in jeopardy. An interview with Colburn revealed the General’s evil plot. Hugh Thomson was sent out to the delta where rocket fire was rampant immediately after the incident. He was not given any firepower, back up or support; it was totally suicidal. In the five months that followed, Thompson’s dangerous missions saw 5 of his helicopters shot down in 5 months, an almost record death escape for any soldier. Glen, the other member of the crew who had actually saved the only small boy that survived in the ditch, was sent to the front lines and died from an attack just three weeks later. The men who were on the ground that day were told to pretend as if nothing had happened. The 1st Platoon however led by Calley which was the most implicated in the massacre saw the troops sent to the front lines for 65 to 75 days straight. Most of the men died or got injured during the period; it was a perfect professional clean up.
8. My Lai People Are Prepared to Forgive the Soldiers
It is probably the only sweet side of the sad story. These people saw the worst side of humanity from the very people sent to protect their lives. My Lai has a museum with evidence of the worst military conduct in American history, but the very victims that bear these memories are the best of the two sides. Most of the locals are Buddhists; they learned to move on from the events quickly. Many times that investigators and journalists visit, they confirm that they don’t hate Americans and that they will forgive the soldiers if they visit.
Thomson and Colburn met the young boy that Glen had saved that day alongside other survivors, and they still give them heroes welcome for saving their lives. Unlike the American public in which research showed, 4 out of 5 stood with Calley and damned the Vietnamese; these people display the rarest nature of humanity with love for their worst ever adversaries. They were better at doing what most of the world cannot do considering very few people ever forgave these soldiers. Even Thompson confirmed that he would never forgive them till his death in 2006.
9. The Politicians and the Soldiers Never Apologized
The military was unrepentant, and so were the soldiers. There were 21 soldiers implicated in the convictions, but as Colburn confirmed, they were sham hearings. The government was never committed to bringing justice; it was an inhumane act supported by both sides of the political divide and the American public. Calley was the only man imprisoned for the crimes, a sentence he never served. More than 300,000 letters were written to the president requesting him to pardon Calley.
His guilty verdict was reduced to 20 years and later ten years, but he only served three in the comfort of his house. Julian Ewell never repented, Calley simply said he was doing what the government had made him believe was right, maximize the body count. He was named a national hero despite his heinous crimes, Georgia and Minnesota both flew flags at half mast just because of this verdict. Some of the soldiers in the war were repentant and sorrowful during their interviews, but Calley’s team remained adamant and never went back to My Lai to make amends.
10. Hugh Thompson Threw Away All His Medals
A man branded a traitor by the army for doing the right thing, hated by politicians and fellow soldiers alike and forced to endure decades of trauma and PTSD. Hugh Thompson only found consolation in giving an interview about the need to preserve life and training young soldiers in military academies to uphold values in war. He threw away the first bronze medal meant to buy his silence, and even after becoming the first man to win a medal for bravery against his fellow soldiers, he was still unsatisfied and threw it away too. All the medals were forced on him, and none of them was genuine. The army wanted to award him secretly when things were out of hand but he refused and told the general to award a medal to him, and his crew at the Vietnam war memorial or he would flush it down the toilet. The very organization had betrayed him he swore to serve, both he and Colburn took no pride in their medals. He threw it away one night when he got fed up with the rot behind it.