There’s a very good chance you’ve never heard the name Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. But there’s a fair chance that you might have heard the name William Calley or Ernest Medina, the two men who orchestrated the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.

The My Lai Massacre

According to US Intelligence reports four villages, including My Lai were supposedly a Viet Cong stronghold in the in Sơn Mỹ, Quảng Ngãi Province, South Vietnam.

The intelligence was wrong.

On March 16, 1968 Thompson was piloting an observation helicopter during the search and destroy mission led by William Calley and Ernest Media.

Thompson experienced no ground fire at his helicopter as he flew over My Lai. It appeared to him to be mostly old men, women, and children — rice farmers.

No one of draft age was evident.

Later as their flight continued they began to see many dead bodies around the city. Including an irrigation ditch filled with dead men, women and children.

Thomson knew something was wrong when he saw a 20-year-old wounded woman lying in the grass. He dropped a green marker that indicated it was safe to approach her. As Thompson was landing he saw Captain Medina finish her off right in front of him.

Thompson radioed a report as to what was going on but the massacre continued. At one point Thompson landed his helicopter between US forces and a group of Vietnamese and ordered his machine gunners to take out the Americans if they tried to kill the Vietnamese civilians.

Thompson confronted Calley who told Thompson, Look Thompson, this is my show. I'm in charge here. It ain't your concern.”

Even though he was low on fuel he was looking for survivors and found a small child under some other bodies and flew the child to a hospital.

As Thompson’s complaints made their way up the chain of command the order finally came down to stop the mission.

William Calley was convicted in the deaths of 109 Vietnamese civilians although over 500 innocents lost their lives that day. After three years of house arrest a federal judge decided his trial had been tainted by evidence that was not introduced. He was released with time served.

Some Final Thoughts

I returned home from Vietnam about a year earlier. And sadly this news was not a shock to me.

Our forces were mostly draftees. Only one in 20 had a high school diploma. Some were given the choice of military service instead of jail as civilians.

The mentality of soldiers at that time was to dehumanize the Vietnamese as things not human beings. They were called gooks, slants, chinks.

Their loss of life was of little importance. In the early years Vietnam was much like a live action video game before there were video games.

There were people in the military that wanted to court martial Thompson for turning his guns on US soldiers but thankfully that never happened.

He received a medal for saving that child but threw it away because the description of events said he was in the middle of a fire fight between the US and Viet Cong forces which was untrue.

Saving the child was a humanitarian act not an act of bravery.

Thompson saved a lot of people that day. The event could have been much worse.

But hardly anyone, including me, ever heard of Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr.

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