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A history of the events surrounding the my lai massacre

See Article History Alternative Title: In January 1968 Charlie was one of three companies tasked with the destruction of the 48th Battalion, an especially effective Viet Cong unit operating in Quang Ngai province.

Throughout February and early March, Charlie Company suffered dozens of casualties due to mines and booby traps, but it failed to engage the 48th Batallion.

After the debacle of the broad Tet Offensivethe Viet Cong had returned to guerrilla tactics and tended to avoid direct encounters with U. Intelligence suggested that the 48th Batallion had taken refuge in the My Lai area though in reality, that unit was in the western Quang Ngai highlands, more than 40 miles [65 km] away.

Ernest Medina, told his men that they would finally be given the opportunity to fight the enemy that had eluded them for over a month. Believing that civilians had already left the area for Quang Ngai city, he directed that anyone found in My Lai should be treated as a Viet Cong fighter or sympathizer. Under these rules of engagementsoldiers were free to fire at anyone or anything. Moreover, the troops of Charlie Company were ordered to destroy crops and buildings and to kill livestock.

Massacre at My Lai

Massacre at My Lai Shortly before 7: William Calley, was inserted a short distance to the west of a sub-hamlet known locally as Xom Lang but marked as My Lai 4 on U. Although they encountered no resistance, the soldiers nonetheless killed indiscriminately. Over the next hour, groups of women, children, and elderly men were rounded up and shot at close range.

Ron Haeberle, a U. Army photographer attached to Charlie Company, documented the events of the day. He used a black-and-white camera for official Army records but shot in colour on his personal camera.

Many of the black-and-white images depicted soldiers questioning prisoners, searching possessions, and burning huts; although the destruction of property violated U.

One graphically depicted a trail littered with the bodies of dead women, children, and infants, and another captured a group of terrified women and children moments before they were shot. These photographs served to galvanize the anti-Vietnam War movement and would become some of the most recognizable images of the war.

As the massacre was taking place, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was flying a scout helicopter at low altitude above My Lai. Observing wounded civilians, he marked their locations with smoke grenades and radioed for troops on the ground to proceed to those positions to administer medical aid. After refueling, Thompson returned to My Lai only to see that the wounded civilians subsequently had been killed.

My Lai Massacre

Spotting a squad of U. Medina ordered Charlie Company to break for lunch and informed his superiors that scores of Viet Cong had been killed in the operation. Cover-up, investigation, and legacy Upon his return to base later that morning, Thompson reported that he had observed the widespread killing of civilians in My Lai.

In spite of reports from Vietnamese officials that hundreds of civilians had been killed in My Lai and that Son My village had been almost entirely razed, the official after-action report characterized the My Lai operation as a resounding success. On April 24, 1968, Col. Oran Henderson, commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade, concluded that 20 civilians had been accidentally killed at My Lai, either in the opening artillery barrage or in crossfire between U.

Thompson found himself assigned to increasingly dangerous missions with inadequate air cover; he was shot down five times, breaking his back in the final crash. By late April 1968 Ronald Ridenhoura helicopter door gunner who had trained with members of Charlie Company, had begun to pursue an informal investigation of the massacre after learning of it from troops who had been present that day. Ridenhour spent the rest of his time in Vietnam gathering eyewitness testimony.

This letter sparked official investigations of both the massacre itself and the subsequent cover-up. Ridenhour, Medina, Thompson, and Calley were among those interviewed, and in September 1969 Calley was charged with the murder of 109 Vietnamese civilians. In addition to Calley, Medina and another officer, along with nine enlisted men, were charged with crimes in connection to My Lai.

With the exception of Calley, all of those charged were acquitted or had the cases against them dismissed before trial. Many observers, however, believed that Calley had been made a scapegoat, and in 1974 he was paroled. The massacre and other atrocities revealed during the trial divided the U. While the criminal investigation was ongoing, a parallel inquiry, launched by Lieut. William Peers on November 26, 1969, probed the a history of the events surrounding the my lai massacre of the My Lai incident at virtually every level of command.

Any charges that would be brought were subject to a two-year statute of limitationsso Peers had less than four months to complete his investigation. Among the 30 individuals singled out by Peers for having failed to report or fully investigate the unlawful killing of civilians were Calley, Medina, Henderson, and Haeberle.

With just two days left to act, the Army brought charges against 14 officers; however, all but one of the cases was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Henderson, the highest ranking officer to be tried in connection with My Lai, was court-martialed for dereliction of duty for having failed to fully investigate the killings.

He was found not guilty on December 18, 1971. In 1976, just a year after the fall of Saigonthe first memorial was erected at My Lai. Over time the site—officially the Son My Vestige Area—grew to include a museum, gardens, and commemorative statuary.

Stelae indicate the locations of mass burial sites, and a memorial wall lists the names of hundreds of victims. The hamlet itself has also been partially recreated; replicas depict both burned out buildings and homes as they looked prior to March 16, 1968.