Hugh Thompson and My Lai

Discussion in 'Quackenbush's' started by TaylorTRoom, Apr 15, 2022.

  1. TaylorTRoom

    TaylorTRoom 1,000+ Posts

    Timely, because of Ukraine War (and Russian atrocities) and today being Hugh Thompson’s birthday.

    I had started the second grade at South Columbus Elementary School in Columbus, Georgia. The court martial of Lt. William Calley was taking place in adjacent Ft Benning. It received a lot of attention- there was no controversy over whether a crime had happened; most of the discussion among my father and his friends was over how high up the direction to massacre the village might have come.

    Years later, my father (a SFC while serving as a combat marksman in Mekong Delta) stated that My Lai happened because the NCOs present weren’t strong enough. He said that he sympathized with the desire, after your best friend was blown up by a bomb that the village had just assured you wasn’t there, to kill a bunch of them, but that they all knew that was illegal. He said the army had drilled into them that they were not to obey illegal orders. He felt that if a lieutenant gave such an order, an experienced NCO would say, “We’re not going to do that, sir”.

    Hugh Thompson was the WO who came upon the scene and stopped it. I can’t imagine the courage to run in front of armed men committing a crime and stopping them. It would have been so much easier to sit back and file a report later.

    The army really didn’t know what to do with Thompson after. They were so entangled with Calley, prosecuting him while trying to manage the army and national politics. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that he received belated recognition. He was a different kind of war hero, but I think we can be proud of him for showing the decency possible during war.
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  2. Dionysus

    Dionysus Admin Admin

    @TaylorTRoom The whole situation is heart breaking to think about. War is such a failure of humanity.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Chop

    Chop 10,000+ Posts

    Here's some interesting info on the split of opinion regarding this sordid affair:

    Many in the United States were outraged by what they perceived to be an overly harsh sentence for Calley. Georgia's Governor, Jimmy Carter, future President of the United States, instituted American Fighting Man's Day, and asked Georgians to drive for a week with their lights on. Indiana's Governor Edgar Whitcomb asked that all state flags be flown at half-staff for Calley, and the governors of Utah and Mississippi also publicly disagreed with the verdict. The legislatures of Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina requested clemency for Calley.
    William Calley - Wikipedia

    Big Lt. Calley supporter

    Larry Colburn, helicopter machine gunner (left), reunion with Hugh Thompson, helicopter pilot (right) in 2004. These 2 stood down Calley.

  4. Chop

    Chop 10,000+ Posts

    Capt. Ernest Medina

    Now here's one lucky son-of-a-gun who was acquitted at trial (F. Lee Bailey was his lead defense attorney.) Medina was above Calley in the chain of command, but got off. A cynic might say that there was a point above which nobody would bear any responsibility, and that Calley (while clearly guilty) was actually something of a scapegoat.

    According to the 1970 investigation by General William R. Peers, Medina:
    • "Planned, ordered, and supervised the execution by his company of an unlawful operation against inhabited hamlets in Son My village, which included the destruction of houses by burning, killing of livestock, and the destruction of crops and other foodstuffs, and the closing of wells; and impliedly directed the killing of any persons found there."
    • "Possibly killed as many as three noncombatants in My Lai."
    Medina was court-martialed in 1971 for willingly allowing his men to murder noncombatants. Medina denied all the charges and claimed that he never gave any orders to kill Vietnamese noncombatants.

    Medina's defense team, led by F. Lee Bailey, and a support staff that included Gary Myers, alleged that his men killed Vietnamese noncombatants under their own volition and not under Medina's orders. Medina also testified that he did not become aware that his troops were out of control at My Lai until the massacre was already well underway.

    In August 1971, Medina was ultimately found not guilty of all charges.[6] His jury deliberations lasted about 60 minutes.

    Despite his acquittal, the court martial and negative publicity brought Medina's military career to an end. He resigned his commission and left the Army shortly afterward. He later admitted that, during his court martial, he had "not been completely candid to avoid disgracing the military, the United States, his family, and himself."

    Ernest Medina - Wikipedia
  5. TaylorTRoom

    TaylorTRoom 1,000+ Posts

    US military trials are notoriously lenient.

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