My Lai Massacre

Almost from the first revelations of the committing of war crimes by American soldiers, the U.S. Army realized that the essence of the story, and therefore responsibility for those events, hinged on the chain of command. The incident was covered up. When facts of the My Lai Massacre were finally given national exposure, America was polarized. The war crimes helped to unite a disparate opposition to American military involvement in Vietnam, although to others, Second Lieutenant William Calley was a scapegoat, if not a hero.

Charlie Company had sustained casualties, primarily from booby traps and mines, almost daily from the day they arrived on Batangan Peninsula. One village area was particularly troublesome; seemingly infested with enemy soldiers and booby traps. The men of Task Force Barker called it "Pinkville". One morning in mid-March, Task Force Barker moved out from their firebase and headed for Pinkville. Their mission: Destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants. When Ron Ridenhour heard this from a friend, he didn't quite believe it was true, but was assured that it was. The village had been cordoned off so that Charlie Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants.

Charlie Company had sustained casualties, primarily from booby traps and mines, almost daily from the day they arrived on Batangan Peninsula. One village area was particularly troublesome; seemingly infested with enemy soldiers and booby traps. The men of Task Force Barker called it "Pinkville". One morning in mid-March, Task Force Barker moved out from their firebase and headed for Pinkville. Their mission: Destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants. When Ron Ridenhour heard this from a friend, he didn't quite believe it was true, but was assured that it was. The village had been cordoned off so that Charlie Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants.

Multiple sources indicate that Sergeant Charles West, a squad leader, and Private Gerald Smith gunned down all seven Vietnamese. U.S. Army photographer Ron Haeberle recalled that he had just taken their picture when he saw all but one of them fall to the ground, having been hit by M-16 rifles firing on automatic. Only a child about five years of age remained standing. When Haeberle turned around, he saw the muzzles smoking. Before anyone could say a word, one of the two GIs shot and killed the child as well. The six soldiers cooly filed past the dead bodies in order to resume their passage through the village.

Multiple sources indicate that Sergeant Charles West, a squad leader, and Private Gerald Smith gunned down all seven Vietnamese. U.S. Army photographer Ron Haeberle recalled that he had just taken their picture when he saw all but one of them fall to the ground, having been hit by M-16 rifles firing on automatic. Only a child about five years of age remained standing. When Haeberle turned around, he saw the muzzles smoking. Before anyone could say a word, one of the two GIs shot and killed the child as well. The six soldiers cooly filed past the dead bodies in order to resume their passage through the village.

Four Hours in My Lai

By Michael Bilton

A woman standing next to Robert Maples, a machine gunner in the first platoon, showed him a bullet wound in her left arm. He felt helpless, since there was nothing he could do for her. Platoon leader William Calley shoved her in the ditch and told Maples "Load your machine gun and shoot these people" ... Maples refused. Calley turned his machine gun on Maples as if preparing to shoot him on the spot. Maples was relieved some of the other men came between the two, in order to protect him. Seconds later, Calley and Private First Class Paul Meadlo began firing. A machine gun opened up and a squad leader began to usher the soldiers into line so that they could all fire simultaneously.

A woman standing next to Robert Maples, a machine gunner in the first platoon, showed him a bullet wound in her left arm. He felt helpless, since there was nothing he could do for her. Platoon leader William Calley shoved her in the ditch and told Maples "Load your machine gun and shoot these people" ... Maples refused. Calley turned his machine gun on Maples as if preparing to shoot him on the spot. Maples was relieved some of the other men came between the two, in order to protect him. Seconds later, Calley and Private First Class Paul Meadlo began firing. A machine gun opened up and a squad leader began to usher the soldiers into line so that they could all fire simultaneously.

Hugh Thompson saw the bodies in the ditch, came back around and saw that some of them were still alive. He put the chopper down and talked to a soldier - he was pretty sure it was a sergeant - and told the men that there were women and kids in the ditch who were wounded, asking if they or he could help them? The sergeant made a remark to the effect that the only way he could help them was to kill them. Hugh Thompson thought he was joking. Not taking the remark seriously, he said "Why don't you see if you can help them" and took off again. As he took off, the crew chief said that the guy was shooting into the ditch. Thompson turned around and saw a guy pointing a weapon towards the ditch.

Hugh Thompson saw the bodies in the ditch, came back around and saw that some of them were still alive. He put the chopper down and talked to a soldier - he was pretty sure it was a sergeant - and told the men that there were women and kids in the ditch who were wounded, asking if they or he could help them? The sergeant made a remark to the effect that the only way he could help them was to kill them. Hugh Thompson thought he was joking. Not taking the remark seriously, he said "Why don't you see if you can help them" and took off again. As he took off, the crew chief said that the guy was shooting into the ditch. Thompson turned around and saw a guy pointing a weapon towards the ditch.

The Vietnamese also struggle with a collective memory of the Massacre at My Lai. Many rely upon centuries-old tradition and ritual to remember and honor their dead ancestors, to maintain a connection with the past. After the North Vietnamese victory in 1975, the national government only allowed superficial and propagandized ceremonies commemorating atrocities committed by American or South Vietnamese soldiers, most notably at a museum in Saigon officially referred to as the American War Crimes Museum. Encouraging real discussions of atrocities would risk dredging up memories of, for example, the mass killings committed by the Viet Cong in Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968.

The Vietnamese also struggle with a collective memory of the Massacre at My Lai. Many rely upon centuries-old tradition and ritual to remember and honor their dead ancestors, to maintain a connection with the past. After the North Vietnamese victory in 1975, the national government only allowed superficial and propagandized ceremonies commemorating atrocities committed by American or South Vietnamese soldiers, most notably at a museum in Saigon officially referred to as the American War Crimes Museum. Encouraging real discussions of atrocities would risk dredging up memories of, for example, the mass killings committed by the Viet Cong in Hue during the Tet Offensive of 1968.