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Hugh Thompson, Jr.
The My Lai Massacre hero
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr (April 15th 1943 - January 6 2006) a well-known United State Army helicopter pilot during Vietnam War. Forgotten by many and portrayed as traitors by the U.S Government after the war, he is now known for his great act of heroism during the massacre of My Lai. The U.S Government covered the massacre for years and blamed Thompson for turning his weapons towards his fellow soldiers and not performing his duty as a soldier.
The My Lai massacre is permitted by military commanders to shoot and kill anyone they see. It didn't matter to them who are armed or not. Rape and torture were also permitted, as many soldiers raped, killed and even thrown infant to walls or ground. To present days, My Lai massacre have been one of the bloodiest genocide known to Vietnam War.
On March 16 1968, Thompson's encountered no enemy fire while flying his OH-23 Raven over My Lai province. While flying, he noticed many injured Vietnamese and marked it with green flares for rescue team to help them.
Later on, while he made another pass at the forest in order to refuel his Raven helicopter, he noticed all injured people have no been killed. Thompson and his co-pilot witnessed as Captain Ernest Medina, commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment came up to a wounded woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.
After seeing such act of aggression, he decided to land the helicopter not far from the murder location, than noticed a ditch, full of mutilated cadavers of unarmed Vietnamese. Movement have been seen by Thompson and his fellow crew members, as he dismounted from his bird, Sergeant David Mitchell, squad leader of the 1st Platoon, C Company walked over him. When asked by Thompson whether any help could be provided to the people in the ditch, the sergeant replied that the only way to help them was to put them out of their misery.
Later on, second Lieutenant William Calley (commanding officer of the 1st Platoon, C Company) then came up and the two soldiers had the following conversation.
Thompson: What's going on here, Lieutenant?
Calley: This is my business.
Thompson: What is this? Who are these people?
Calley: Just following orders.
Thompson: Orders? Whose orders?
Calley: Just following…
Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.
Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I'm in charge here, It ain't your concern.
Thompson: Yeah, great job.
Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.
Thompson: You ain't heard the last of this!
As Thompson took off once more, Andreotta, fellow crewmember of Hugh Thompson, also his co-pilot reported a massive amount of unnecessary unarmed civilian killing. Furious, Thompson flew his Raven towards the northeast corner of the village, and spotted a group of about ten civilians, including children, running towards a homemade bomb shelter. Pursuing them were soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, C Company. Realizing these soldiers were up to no good, he landed his helicopter in between the group, saying "If you guys every shoot at us, or harm anymore of these civilians, I will open fire and kill every single on of you with my mounted M60 machine guns."
After hearing such threat, soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, C Company backed off. As all civilians safely took refuge in their bunker. After landing, 2nd Platoon C Company's leader, Stephen Brooks, confronted Thompson. The pilot calmly said he will lead all civilians out of the bunker.
Thompson: Hey listen, hold your fire. I'm going to try to get these people out of this bunker. Just hold your men here.
Brooks: Yea, we can help you get 'em out of that bunker - with a hand grenade!
Thompson: Just hold your men here! I think I can do better than that.
Brooks declined argument with Thompson, even though his rank outranked his as commissioned officer.
After coaxing 11 Vietnamese out of the bunker, Thompson persuaded the pilots of two UH-1 Huey gunship (Dan Milians and Brian Livingstone) to escort him to evacuate the civilians. While flying back to base in order to refuel, Andreotta reported a ditch with approximately 100 bodies. He than saw a boy with a gun shot wound, crawling and pleading for help. As they landed their helicopter, they took the survivor to ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) hospital in Quang Ngai.
Upon their arrival back at the base at 1100 hours, Thompson and his co-pilot Glenn Andreotta and his gunner Lawrence Colburn filed many complaints to their superior about the massacre of innocent unarmed civilians from Charlie Company.
"knock off the killing" the crew protested.
After the Massacre.
As the reports went to Colonel Oran Henderson, the commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade (the parent organization of the 20th infantry) decided to cancelled all similar planned operation by Task Force Barker against other villages (My Lai 5, My Lai 1, ect..) in Quang Ngai Procince, in order to prevent additional massacre of hundreds, if not thousands of Vietnamese civilians.
The commanders covered up the massacre in their local news. Thompson continued to fly his OH-23 Raven helicopter as observation mission. In their flight path, Thompson and his crew encountered heavy enemy fire. After the 8th time of being shot at, his helicopter was brought down by enemy machine gun fire. As Thompson made a crash landing, killing his co-pilot Glenn Andreotta and wounding his gunner, Lawrence Colburn and himself, they are relieved of their duty as they both suffered heavy damage. Thompson was admitted to a rehabilitation center back in the United State.
As news of the massacre broke down in U.S Media in late 1969, Thompson was summoned to Washington DC and appeared before a special closed hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. There, he was sharply criticized by Congressmen, in particular Chairman Mendel Rivers, who were anxious to play down allegations of a massacre by American Troops. Rivers publicly stated that he felt Thompson was the only soldier at My Lai who should be punished (for turning his weapon upon his fellow American soldiers) and unsuccessfully attempted to have him court-martialed. As word of his actions became publicly known, Thompson started to receive hate mails, death threat as well as mutilated animal corps on his doorstep.
After his Vietnam service, Thompson was assigned to Fort Rucker to be an instructor pilot and later received a direct commission. He retired from the Army with the Rank of Major in 1983.
Recognition for My Lai heroic acts.
In 1992, Thompson and Colburn published their first book together, 'Four Hours in My Lai' (Not to be confused with the movie My Lai 4, turned into a movie in 2009) describing their report and witness of innocent rape and massacre done by the American Army to unarmed Vietnamese civilians.
As such powerful book was published; many people supported and prompted a campaign for Thompson, Andreotta and Colburn for their selfless heroic act. Even senior figures in the U.S military such as former President George H. W. Bush.
Exactly thirty years after the massacre, Thompson, Andreotta and Colburn were awarded the Soldier's Medal (Andreotta received one earlier as he was killed in action), which is the highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy in the United State.
"It was the ability to do the right thing even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did," then-Major General Micheal Ackerman said in 1998.
"True examples of American patriotism at its finest." U.S Senate. Cleland said.
In the same year, Thompson and Colburn returned to My Lai to visit the civilians they saved during the war. Including Thi Nhung and Pham Thi Nhanh, two women who had been part of the group that was about to be killed by Brook's 2nd Platoon. They also dedicated a new elementary school for the children of the village.
In 2004, Thompson was invited to the 60 minutes show, where to talked about the My Lai Massacre. He quoted referring to the Charlie Company's men involved in the massacre "I mean, I wish I was a big enough man to say I forgive them, but I swear to God, I can't".
At the age of 62, after extensive treatment for cancer, Thompson was removed from his life support and died on January 6, 2006 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Pineville, Louisiana. Colburn came from Atlanta to be at his bedside.
Thompson was buried in Lafayette, Louisiana, with full military honors, including a three-volley salute and a helicopter flyover.
On the same day, Congressman Charles Boustany made a statement in Congress honoring him, stating that the "United States has lost a true hero, and the State of Louisiana has lost a devoted leader and dear friend."
In 2010, the Hugh Thompson Foundation was chartered, in memory of Thompson's courage in halting the massacre.
His biography, The forgotten hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson story was included in the U.S Army Chief of Staff's professional reading list.
Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr
Hugh Thompson's OH-23 Raven Hilicopter
Four Hours in My Lai, novel written by Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn
The Forgotten Hero of My Lai - The Hugh Thompson Story