Saturday, January 6, 2007

We Were Trained Better

“Pure premeditated murder.” “And we're trained better than that…”

Exactly one year ago today, January 6, 2006, America lost one of its finest only most likely you won’t find his named mentioned in the press or by the national broadcasting networks. And if his name was mentioned chances are you might not recognize it or the role he played in history.

He flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam as Warrant Officer. Effectively he was a senior non-commissioned officer, although technically in a class of his own between Non-Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Officers.
Over the course of two years during nationally televised congressional brow-beating, he told the truth despite military peer pressure, ostracism and threats of prosecution, in an attempt to prevent him from testifying or to punish him for doing so.

On March 16, 1968 the 24 year old pilot landed his OH-23 helicopter in the line of fire between the U.S. troops and Vietnamese civilians, while his 20-year-old crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, and 18-year-old gunner, Larry Colburn, covered his back, he confronted one of the leaders of a massacre, then evacuated 10 villagers from a bunker.
The three men began setting green smoke markers by the prone bodies of the Vietnamese civilians who appeared to still be alive to call in medical assistance. Dead bodies of Vietnamese civilians were scattered outside the village, a suspected Viet Cong stronghold.
As the young pilot and his crew were returning to their helicopter carrying a small child found still clinging to his dead mother lying in a ditch, they witnessed the shooting of the wounded still lying on the ground.

The three men moved their ship back over the village where the pilot confronted Lt. Stephen Brooks who was preparing to blow up a hut full of wounded Vietnamese; he left his crew chief and gunner to cover the company with their M60D machine gun typically employed as a door gun on helicopters, ordering them to fire on any American who refused to halt the massacre. None dared to disobey, even though as a warrant officer he was outranked by the commissioned lieutenants present.

Charlie Company of Task Force Barker, a part of the American Division, conducted operations in Quang Ngai Province in the Republic of South Vietnam, was led by Captain Ernest Medina and First Lieutenant William L. Calley, Jr., platoon leaders.

On March 16, 1968, Warrant Officer Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006), relayed radio reports of the massacre and subsequent report to his section leader and commander resulted in an order for the cease-fire at My Lai and an end to the killing of innocent civilians.
It's an ugly story of the massacre of hundreds of civilian, non-combatants leaving scars on the conscious of every American who ever served in Vietnam, not the type of memory that you choose to dredged up from the past. On the day of the raid on My Lai Village there was no resistance or enemy fire encountered. No weapons or cashes of munitions were uncovered.

Approximately two years later the story broke publicly and the investigations started. The courageous young pilot was called before the US Senate, the Department of the Army IG and for every one of the court-martial investigations.

The Government formally and publicly admitted the tragic events of My Lai and recognized the heroic selfless actions of Hugh Thompson.
On March 6, 1998, at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., the United States Government presented the Soldier’s Medal (the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with the enemy) to Thompson and to his door gunner assistants, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta (posthumously).

On March 29, 1971 the military tribunal dropped all the charges against the several officers at My Lai except for First Lieutenant William L. Calley, Jr. One day later Calley was sentenced to life. On December 21, 1973 the Military Court of Appeals upheld Calley's conviction.

April 30, 1975, Saigon falls, the South is defeated and the war ends.

September 10, 1975, Calley is paroled, after serving only three and a half years.
Hugh C. Thompson, Jr.Image is a work of the U.S .Military taken during the course of his service and is in the public domain.