March 16, 2012
Hugh Thompson - courage extraordinaryThere were heroes among the villains. Some soldiers committed murder at My Lai, but others refused to follow their clearly illegal orders. Hugh Thompson Jr., a Georgia-born helicopter pilot, landed amid the carnage that day and snatched a handful of civilians from certain death. He was awarded the Soldier's Medal for bravery, but not until 1998; and Pentagon bureaucrats, still afraid of publicity, tried to hand him the medal in a private meeting, with no media present. Thompson, displaying the same moral courage he showed in 1968, demanded a public ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Progressive Post Editor's note: Hugh Thompson is a very special hero among the Vets for Peace of San Diego County, who named their chapter "The Hugh Thompson Memorial Chapter". In every holocaust, every war, there are heroes, but few like like Hugh Thompson.
The Army initially portrayed the events as My Lai as a military victory with a small number of civilian casualties. A year later, Ronald Ridenhour, a former soldier who had heard about the massacre from other soldiers, sent letters to leaders in Washington alerting them to the events. The Army opened an investigation and in September 1969 filed charges against Lieutenant Calley.
Two months later, in November 1969, the American public learned of the My Lai massacre as the journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story. Several publications ran in-depth reports and published photographs taken by the Army photographer Ronald Haeberle. The My Lai massacre intensified antiwar sentiment and raised questions about the quality of men being drafted into the military.
The Army charged 25 officers, including Lieutenant Calley and Captain Medina, for the massacre and its cover-up, though most would not reach court-martial. Lieutenant Calley, charged with premeditated murder, was the only man to be found guilty; he was initially given a life sentence, but after a public outcry he would serve just three and a half years of house arrest.
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