My Lai

by Daniel Russ on September 7, 2010

My Lai Massacre

December 1967, the Vietnam War was raging. The US had committed tens of thousands of forces into South Vietnam to “stem the tide of Communism,” the current boogeyman of the military industrial complex. Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment was staged into Quang Ngai province, or what they referred to as “Pinkville” on the north east coast of South Vietnam just south of the border with North Vietnam. It was an idyllic, coastal province filled with peasant rice growers who had lived there for centuries. The Quang Ngai residents were notoriously friendly and xenophobic at the same time. While they were friendly and courteous with strangers, they bucked under foreign rule. Their ways were simple, often correctly portrayed on movies and television as rice growers, living in high grass plains with ponds and wildebeests. During their first months in Pinkville, soldiers frolicked on the beaches, and brought candies to the villagers. It was not what they expected.

Neither was the next month. The Viet Cong Guerillas understood that if the United States won the hearts and minds of the residents then they, the VC would lose the war. So they used a tried and true tactic that worked until the United States finally pulled out of the country. Later in the war, VC would plant a man in a tree near a village of non-combatants. The guerilla would open fire on a US helicopter or a US infantry company. The US soldiers fired back at the villagers, killing innocents. Or they would march in and just burn everyone’s hutch. In the case of Quang Ngai Province, it was even simpler. VC sappers planted landmines and booby traps everywhere outside of the villages where foot patrols roamed. In fact four months after the deployment, by February 1968, Charlie Company had stepped on 28 mines or booby traps.

Captain Ernest Medina was a charismatic soldier who demanded loyalty and efficiency and aggressiveness. He was a soldier’s soldier, probably more suited for open combat than guerilla warfare. Under his command was Lt. William Calley, a career minded Army officer who spent as much time as possible kissing Medina’s ass, and his sycophancy was noticed by many of the people who took part in the assault on My Lai. Between the two of them, an assault was planned on the village called My Lai, a quiet place occupied primarily by women and children and a few men who tended the animals and the crops. The frustration and anger that built over the two dozen soldiers who lost a foot, and the five that were killed by landmines gave birth to the three pronged attack through the village.

Lt. William Calley

On March 16th, Charlie Company moved west to east through the village. Medina and Calley told troopers that the real villagers were out in the fields at the time when the assault was supposed to start, therefore whoever was left was a member of the National Liberation Front. The mixture of anger about the booby traps, bad information regarding the disposition of VC in the village, horrible platoon level leadership and Calley’s willingness to do anything to please Medina created a minatory omen. It is important to note that many of the US troopers did not participate in the killings. Others unfortunately did more than round up women and children and shoot them into a ditch. Many of the women were gang raped by US troops. Others were brutally tortured and mutilated before the troops killed them. What began a sweep intended to remove belligerents became a slaughter of mostly women and children, many of them babies. It was horrific. A BBC reporter interviewed members who refused to participate and some who did described it this way:

Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. … Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature “C Company” carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.

Once almost 500 bodies were discovered in an uncovered ditch by helicopter pilot Warrant officer Hugh Johnson Jr., news started getting back to command that a massacre was underway at the hands of the Army. Thompson at one point watched as an infantry soldier headed to a bunker filled with women and children and landed in between him and the bunker, and convinced the soldier to let him take the people out of the village.

In typical fashion, a cover-up began.  It was almost two years before court martial and trials started. Ultimately only one man served jail time and that was Calley. Richard Nixon pardoned him after four months and he later admitted that they were not all VC and that he was wrong to have participated in the slaughter. Addressing a Kiwanis Club he said:
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Even Colin Powell, a senior officer at the time participated in the whitewash. This was the Abu Gharaib of the day. It increased opposition to the war across the country and across the globe and it was forever a black eye in US history.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

opan April 20, 2011 at 4:25 am

…..go to hell all of C Company who kill n torture father, mother and baby in My Lai!!!!!…you have a mother, father, son, daughter, little brother in US….

Gordon Peterson May 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

Wow… I have heard various reports about My Lai and what happened there. I almost got physically sick when I read this article. These are the types of events that our supposed enemies remember. Their own 911, thousands of them committed by rouge US soldiers.
I am a Republican, I believe in a strong. protective military. We need to pull ALL our people out of foreign skirmishes. If we are the “Cops” of the world, let other country pay a fee for protection against aggression. Let the world know, “If you engage in war, conflicts and do not resolve the issues at hand, we, the USA will nuke your countries into oblivion, there will not be anyone or anything left to fight over. NO EXCEPTIONS!”
After a few events, the world will be a peaceful place. War is awful! Mexico would be first! We should bring Mexico in to our group of States. Then we could clean house and eliminate the Boarder Wars and the imagration issue. Mexico’s Souther Boarder would be much easier to protect.

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