Ten Forgotten Facts About The My Lai Massacre

Ten Forgotten Facts About The My Lai Massacre

The Vietnam War was largely considered a genocide orchestrated by the US military in which over 2.2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed. The use of harmful chemicals, including the famous Agent Orange, also rendered most of Northern Vietnam unhabitable and caused long term effects that the country has never recovered from. The war was condemned by everyone, including huge protests by US citizens. The Mylai massacre is a particular event that caused the American public to lose faith in their government and probably the most regretted event in the history of the US army. It all happened When Lieutenant William Calley ordered soldiers under him to round up and shoot unarmed civilians in the village of Son My, later named My Lai, on March 19, 1968, killing over 500 old men, women and children.

The 504 victims included 17 pregnant women

When the soldiers got to the village, they discovered that they had received the wrong intelligence and that Viet Cong fighters were not there. William Calley then ordered the troops to search houses and round up all the villagers, and confiscate weapons. They only found two or three old guns and no combatants. The lieutenant immediately started shooting at the gathered villagers using a machine gun. The village had no combatants, but the soldiers killed everyone anyway, including 173 children and 17 pregnant women. Mothers who tried to shield their children from the bullets were also shot. Calley personally dragged a number of civilians to a trench and executed them there. The poor villagers had no way to defend themselves.

The Commander Threatened To Shoot Soldiers That Didn’t Participate

Not all the soldiers in William Calley’s company were willing to kill unarmed civilians. However, Calley wasn’t willing to listen to reason, so he threatened to shoot at his fellow soldiers that didn’t participate in the killing. He forced some of the lower-ranking soldiers in his company to execute civilians in a trench. When one lower-ranking officer named Meadlo broke down crying and said he couldn’t do it anymore, the evil lieutenant threatened him before shooting the remaining children himself. He even shot women who were praying.

Even The President Participated In The Cover-Up

The coverup of the Mylai massacre is what fueled the hate against President Nixon’s government. The military tried to cover up the whole thing calling it a successful search and destroy mission. However, Ron Ridenhour, a member of the 11th Brigade who had heard stories of the massacre and seen participants suffering from the guilt, was surprised when the higher-ups labelled it a success. He wrote letters to Washington exposing what had happened. However, his letters to the State Department, the Pentagon and even directly to the president never saw the light of day for a whole year. He then decided to give an interview to Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist who published it, taking the country by a storm. And yes, he was punished by the military for it.

Soldiers Were Rewarded For The Most Kills

The Viet Cong were a difficult enemy to handle because they had no known bases and could attack from anywhere at any time. Many US soldiers died from booby traps and sniper fire, and there was hardly enough time for the army to launch a decisive response. The US army then adopted a policy of increasing the body count. They believed that if they killed more people than the Viet Cong could replace, then the rebels would simply give up in the end.

Troops then adopted a policy of listing body counts on boards, and whoever had the most kills would get a case of beer or even a day off. The commanders of the troops with the highest kills were promoted faster. In real sense, even children and women that ran away from warning shots were killed and counted as Viet Cong Sympathizers. No one cared whether the dead were actual combatants or just scared villagers. They had a policy that said, “If dead and Vietnamese, It is VC.”

Even Water Buffaloes Became Victims Of The Craze

US soldiers massacred the entire village of Mylai so mercilessly that the surviving victims were unable to talk about it for years because of the shock. The soldiers raped and killed hundreds of women and girls. At one point, William Calley ordered one soldier to launch a grenade into a group of old people that had been rounded up. When most of the humans in the village were either dead or had escaped into the bushes, the soldiers turned on the livestock. The soldiers slaughtered whichever animals they could find and shot some, including innocent water buffaloes that were used for farming by the villagers. After killing the animals, the soldiers burned down the entire village.

It Was Not The Only Massacre Of The Vietnam War

General Julian Ewell was nicknamed the butcher of the Delta. He was the leader of the operation dabbed Speedy Express, which saw a scorched earth policy employed on villages in the Mekong Delta. The Mylai massacre happened and was covered up under his watch, but it was not the only massacre that happened in the war. A similar incident happened in a village called My Khe, but in that case, there were hardly any survivors to tell the tale. The army believed that the horror would serve to discourage Viet Cong from launching attacks on US troops, but it only served to make the locals hate US troops even more.

A Military Helicopter Pilot Had To Threaten Fellow US soldiers To Urge Them To Stop

Warrant Thompson Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot, was the hero of the My Lai massacre. He was awarded the Soldiers Medal for bravery not involving an enemy combatant. He was tasked with overwatch for Calley’s ground troops and noticed that the number of bodies on the ground was increasing, yet there had been no reports of enemy fire.

When he landed his helicopter, he noticed that there was no single enemy combatant among the dead. The sight of babies and pregnant mothers dead in a ditch broke his heart. He then flew his helicopter to the troops who were pursuing a group of fleeing villagers and landed it between the troops and the villagers. He then pointed his guns at the soldiers and threatened to fire on them if they fired at the civilians. That is how the massacre finally ended.

Only One Person Was Jailed For It And For A Very Short Time

The US justice system was largely complicit in the massacre as it let off all the people involved with a slap on the wrist. More than 20 people were indicted for their involvement in the Mylai massacre, but only 14 people went to trial. All the people that went to trial were acquitted for the murders except Lieutenant William Calley, who was sentenced to life in prison for Premeditated murder. He was used as a scapegoat by the military, and things worked out for him in the end. His sentence was reduced to 20 years, then 10 years, and then he was paroled in 1974 after serving less than three years in prison.

The Hero Is The Only Person That Went Back To Say Sorry

Varnado Simpson is one of the soldiers that took part in the massacre. He gave an interview about how he cut people’s heads and limbs off just like everyone else was doing. He was suffering from PTSD and went on to commit suicide. Many soldiers went on to commit suicide after the incident because they just couldn’t live with themselves. Sadly, the US army has never formally apologized for the incident.

It actually took them 30 years to recognize Hugh Thompson as the hero that day, only giving him his medal in 1998, a medal he refused because he felt it was an ashamed military covering up their mistakes. He and his crew made a point of going back to My Lai to meet some of the people he saved when he finally retired from the army. He is probably the only soldier from the platoon that went to physically give his apology for the crimes committed by his countrymen.

The People Of My Lai Forgave It All

Today there are two huge walls on both ends of the town of Mylai with the names of people who were killed during the massacre. Journalists and tourists are allowed to visit the site, and many go there in March for the anniversary of the event. The people of Mylai, through one of the survivors, said they forgave the soldiers who did all those things to their village and forgave them all, although most of them never showed remorse for their actions.

Author: Gus Barge

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