The My Lai Massacre, 1968.
My Lai was a small village with approximately 700 inhabitants. It was located on a route that the Vietcong were using during the Tet Offensive and was identified as a primary location in which enemy troops were likely to be hiding or supplied from. As a result, Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division were ordered to enter the village on March 16th 1968, with an order to, “go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good.” (Colonel Oran K. Henderson). Following artillery fire and suppressing fire from gunships, Charlie company entered My Lai. When they entered they found no obvious signs of the enemy, though would have feared that the Vietcong were hiding in the village. One platoon, led by Lt. William Calley, opened fire on a ‘suspected enemy position’. The killing of civilians had begun. Following this the village became the scene of carnage.
“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.” BBC, Murder in the name of war. 1998.
The exact number of people who died at My Lai has never been agreed. A US official investigation suggests that 347 people were murdered. The My lai memorial lists 504 people whilst other figures range from 175 upwards.
The indiscriminate killing was witnessed by helicopter crews. One of these crews, piloted by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson jnr landed and made attempts to intervene. The first attempt failed. Upon taking off after asking for children to be protected, the crew saw the group being machine gunned. Following this the crew landed again and used themselves as a shield whilst loading civilians onto their helicopter for evacuation.
“It looks like a bloodbath down there! What the hell is going on?” Hugh Thompson
“I did not see anyone alive when we left the village.” Private First Class Robert Maples
“[The 1st Battalion] members had killed at least 175–200 Vietnamese men, women, and children. The evidence indicates that only 3 or 4 were confirmed as Viet Cong although there were undoubtedly several unarmed VC (men, women, and children) among them and many more active supporters and sympathizers. One man from the company was reported as wounded from the accidental discharge of his weapon.” Peers Report, March 1970.
“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.” Lt Calley, speaking in 2009.