Tenente William Calley cobrado pelo massacre de My Lai

Tenente William Calley cobrado pelo massacre de My Lai

O Tenente Calley, um líder de pelotão na Companhia Charlie, 1º Batalhão, 20ª Infantaria, 11ª Brigada de Infantaria (Luz) da 23ª Divisão (Americal) liderou seus homens em um massacre de civis vietnamitas, incluindo mulheres e crianças, em My Lai 4 , um aglomerado de aldeias que formava a vila de Son My no distrito de Son Tinh, na província de Quang Ngai, nas planícies costeiras da Zona Tática do I Corps em 16 de março de 1968. A empresa vinha conduzindo uma missão de busca e destruição como parte da Operação de um ano Wheeler / Wallowa (novembro de 1967 a novembro de 1968).

Em busca do 48º Batalhão da Força Local vietcongue (VC), a unidade entrou na aldeia Son My, mas encontrou apenas mulheres, crianças e velhos. Frustrados pelas perdas não respondidas devido a atiradores e minas, os soldados descarregaram sua raiva nos moradores, atirando indiscriminadamente nas pessoas que fugiam de suas cabanas e cercando sistematicamente os sobreviventes, supostamente levando-os para uma vala próxima onde foram executados.

Alegadamente, a matança só foi interrompida quando o suboficial Hugh Thompson, um piloto de helicóptero aero-scout pousou seu helicóptero entre os americanos e os sul-vietnamitas em fuga, confrontando os soldados e impedindo-os de novas ações contra os aldeões. O incidente foi posteriormente encoberto, mas finalmente veio à tona um ano depois.

LEIA MAIS: Como o encobrimento do Exército tornou o massacre de My Lai ainda pior

Uma comissão de inquérito do Exército, chefiada pelo tenente-general William Peers, investigou o massacre e produziu uma lista de 30 pessoas que sabiam da atrocidade, mas apenas 14, incluindo Calley e o comandante de sua companhia, o capitão Ernest Medina, foram acusados ​​de crimes . Todos tiveram suas acusações rejeitadas ou foram absolvidos por tribunais marciais, exceto Calley, cujo pelotão supostamente matou 200 inocentes. Ele foi considerado culpado pelo assassinato pessoal de 22 civis e condenado à prisão perpétua, mas sua sentença foi reduzida para 20 anos pelo Tribunal de Justiça Militar e posteriormente reduzida para 10 anos pelo Secretário do Exército. Proclamado por grande parte do público como um “bode expiatório”, Calley foi libertado em liberdade condicional pelo presidente Richard Nixon em 1974, após ter cumprido cerca de um terço de sua sentença de 10 anos.


Tenente William Calley cobrado pelo massacre de My Lai - HISTÓRIA

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Hoje, em 1969, o Tenente do Exército dos Estados Unidos William Calley foi acusado de seis acusações de assassinato premeditado por seu papel no que viria a ser conhecido como o Massacre de My Lai. As ações de Calley como comandante de pelotão durante a Guerra do Vietnã ajudariam a dar combustível aos fogos antiguerra que queimam nos Estados Unidos e acenderiam as paixões de muitos que, antes dessa época, não haviam participado do debate sobre a guerra.

Meu Lai era um vilarejo localizado na província de Quang Ngai, no Vietnã do Sul. Era um conhecido foco de atividade vietcongue, tanto que a área era freqüentemente alvo de ataques aéreos e bombardeios de artilharia. Durante a Ofensiva do Tet em 1968, o Viet Cong realizou várias operações na província e depois desapareceu, aparentemente no ar. A inteligência do Exército dos EUA acreditava que as forças vietcongues haviam se refugiado em My Lai e em vários outros vilarejos próximos e, portanto, o Exército planejou uma ofensiva de 16 de março na área.

A Companhia Charlie, 1º Batalhão, 20º Regimento de Infantaria, 11ª Brigada, Divisão Americal foi uma das unidades programadas para participar da ofensiva. Um dos pelotões da empresa era liderado pelo tenente William Calley, que recebeu ordens para destruir o vilarejo assim que fosse limpo de soldados vietcongues e simpatizantes. Acreditava-se que qualquer civil inocente estaria fora da aldeia às 7h.

Calley e seus homens não encontraram Viet Cong em My Lai na manhã de 16 de março de 1968. Frustrados com a falta de cooperação oferecida pelos habitantes locais e pela perda de companheiros do pelotão para atividades de VC na área, alguns dos soldados começaram matando qualquer um que pudessem encontrar na aldeia: homens, mulheres e crianças. Alguns foram conduzidos a trincheiras próximas e disparados com armas automáticas. Embora o número exato de vítimas nunca seja conhecido, as fontes colocam o número entre 347 e 504.

O suboficial Hugh Thompson estava voando sobre a aldeia em um helicóptero do Exército OH-23, onde viu o massacre ocorrendo com seus próprios olhos. Ele pousou entre um grupo de soldados americanos e civis e disse aos oficiais presentes que atiraria em qualquer americano que atacasse um civil. Ele então relatou o incidente, após o que a infantaria recebeu ordens para cessar o fogo na área.

O massacre em My Lai provavelmente não teria sido relatado e punido se não fosse por uma carta recebida pelo presidente Nixon, o Estado-Maior Conjunto e membros do Congresso em março de 1969, um ano inteiro após o incidente. A carta foi escrita por Ron Ridenhour, que havia aprendido sobre My Lai de segunda mão durante sua estada no Vietnã. Ele conversou com membros da Charlie Company, alguns dos quais prontamente admitiram ter participado dos eventos daquele dia.

E assim, em 5 de setembro de 1969, o tenente Calley foi acusado de seis acusações de homicídio premeditado. 25 outros oficiais e soldados acabariam sendo acusados ​​de vários crimes, a maioria das acusações seria retirada. Calley foi o único soldado condenado por um crime relacionado a My Lai. Ele cumpriu três anos e meio em prisão domiciliar nos aposentos dos policiais em Fort Benning, Geórgia, e foi então libertado por um juiz federal.

A defesa de Calley baseava-se em sua crença de que estava seguindo as ordens de seu superior imediato, o capitão Ernest Medina. Medina foi absolvido de qualquer delito em seu próprio julgamento, mas essas duas decisões judiciais deram origem ao que é conhecido hoje como o Padrão Medina, que afirma que um oficial comandante que não agir para impedir violações de direitos humanos ou crimes de guerra é criminalmente responsável .

William Calley mora hoje em Columbus, Geórgia. Hugh Thompson, o piloto de helicóptero que ajudou a encerrar o massacre, morreu em janeiro deste ano e foi enterrado com todas as honras militares. Em 2004, foi entrevistado para o noticiário "60 Minutes". Quando questionado sobre seus sentimentos em relação aos homens que cometeram o massacre naquele dia em 1968, ele disse:

"Eu gostaria de ser um homem grande o suficiente para dizer que os perdôo, mas juro por Deus, não posso."


My Lai Massacre

A frase "pesquisar e destruir" assumiu uma espécie de moeda na cultura pop nos últimos anos, mas no Vietnã por volta de 1968, era tudo menos um clichê simplista. Era uma ordem, e vidas poderiam depender de sua execução bem-sucedida.

Mas quando a ordem foi emitida fora de uma pequena vila no sul do Vietnã amplamente chamada de "My Lai" (seu nome real é "Son My") em 16 de março de 1968, o resultado foi muita "destruição" e muito pouca "busca. " Os massacres resultantes representam um dos pontos baixos da história americana, junto com George Washington dando cobertores infectados com varíola aos nativos (exceto mais homicida do que genocida).

A Guerra do Vietnã estava indo bem, não de maneira agradável, mesmo em relação à maneira como a guerra geralmente tende a ser. Depois de algumas semanas particularmente acaloradas e perigosas, os soldados da Companhia Charlie encontraram My Lai. A Companhia Charlie sofreu baixas e a unidade era conhecida por suas táticas violentas.

Dois pelotões entraram em My Lai à procura de combatentes vietcongues, sob as ordens do tenente William Calley. De acordo com vários relatos, os soldados receberam mensagens decididamente confusas sobre o que esperar. O testemunho de um oficial em corte marcial indicou que os soldados haviam sido informados de que todas as pessoas na aldeia eram soldados VC ou simpatizantes e que civis haviam deixado a cidade.

Embora as circunstâncias exatas que levaram ao ataque ainda sejam discutidas, o que é indiscutível é o resultado da manobra militar. Quando entraram na aldeia, os soldados começaram a atirar em civis desarmados. Ordens foram dadas para demolir as cabanas onde os aldeões viviam.

Mesmo com a atmosfera ultraviolenta e paranóica de combate no Vietnã, seria de se pensar que, depois de matar algumas dezenas de civis desarmados sem resistência, a empresa poderia ter parado para reavaliar sua estratégia de matar todos que se moviam. Não aconteceu.

Homens, mulheres e crianças, incluindo bebês, foram mortos na carnificina que se seguiu. Crianças em oração foram baleadas na nuca, homens idosos foram mortos a golpes de baioneta. As pessoas foram baleadas de joelhos, nas costas, com as mãos para cima.

Nem todos na empresa participaram do massacre, mas muitos deles participaram, liderados por Calley, que supostamente abateu 60 civis capturados em uma vala sozinho depois que seus soldados recusaram a ordem. Embora o relatório oficial do Exército tenha determinado que apenas cerca de 10 soldados realmente realizaram o massacre, isso é meio difícil de acreditar à luz da devastação que acabou ocorrendo.

Mais de 500 pessoas foram mortas em apenas algumas horas. Alguns dos cadáveres foram mutilados. Algumas mulheres que não foram mortas foram estupradas por uma gangue. Outros moradores foram espancados e torturados. E as evidências da carnificina foram registradas em filme por um fotógrafo do Exército que acompanhava a unidade, chamado Ron Haeberle.

Perto do final do massacre, um helicóptero veio em auxílio dos moradores. Um piloto do exército chamado Hugh Thompson pousou sua nave entre os aldeões e os soldados furiosos, ordenando que seu artilheiro, Lawrence Colburn, disparasse contra qualquer soldado que continuasse perseguindo os aldeões em fuga. Thompson e Colburn transmitiram pelo rádio mais dois helicópteros para o local e levaram uma dúzia de aldeões para um local seguro. Eles foram recompensados ​​por sua bravura. trinta anos depois. O chefe da tripulação do helicóptero, Glenn Andreotta, também foi reconhecido por sua bravura, mas postumamente. Antes do fim da guerra, ele se tornou mais uma vítima do Vietnã.

Após o massacre, os soldados no local fizeram um esforço para encobrir as mortes, minimizando o número de vítimas civis para algumas dezenas, uma afirmação que se repetiu em vários relatórios oficiais subsequentes. E isso provavelmente teria sido o fim de tudo, exceto por um ex-soldado chamado Ron Ridenhour, que praticou a arte perdida de escrever para seu congressista, depois de ouvir histórias sinistras de um terrível massacre de seus colegas soldados:

"Eu perguntei a 'Butch' várias vezes se todas as pessoas foram mortas. Ele disse que pensava que eram homens, mulheres e crianças. Ele se lembra de ter visto um menino pequeno, de cerca de três ou quatro anos, parado na trilha com um ferimento a bala em um braço. O menino estava segurando o braço ferido com a outra mão, enquanto o sangue gotejava entre seus dedos. Ele estava olhando ao redor em estado de choque e descrença com o que viu. "não entendia, ele não acreditava no que estava acontecendo. Então o RTO (operador de rádio) do capitão disparou contra ele uma rajada de tiros 16 (rifle M-16)." Foi tão ruim, disse Gruver, que um dos homens de seu esquadrão deu um tiro no pé para ser medivado para fora da área e não teria que participar do massacre. Embora ele não tivesse visto, Gruver tinha sido informado por pessoas que considerava confiáveis ​​que um dos diretores da empresa, o 2º Tenente Kally (esta grafia pode estar incorreta), havia reunido vários grupos de aldeões (cada grupo consistindo de um mínimo de 20 pessoas de ambos os sexos e todas as idades). De acordo com a história, Kally então metralhou cada grupo. Gruver estimou que a população da aldeia era de 300 a 400 pessoas e que muito poucos, se algum, escaparam. (.)

"Exatamente o que aconteceu, de fato, na vila de" Pinkville "em março de 1968, não sei ao certo, mas estou convencido de que era algo muito negro, de fato. Continuo irrevogavelmente persuadido de que se você e eu realmente o fizermos acreditar nos princípios da justiça e da igualdade de cada homem, por mais humilde que seja, perante a lei, que constituem a espinha dorsal em que este país se funda, então devemos levar adiante uma investigação ampla e pública deste assunto com todas as nossas esforços. Acho que foi Winston Churchill que, certa vez, disse: "Um país sem consciência é um país sem alma, e um país sem alma é um país que não pode sobreviver." Sinto que devo tomar medidas positivas sobre este assunto. Espero que você inicie uma investigação imediatamente e me mantenha informado sobre seu progresso. Se não puder, então não sei que outra ação tomar.

No final de 1969, o jornalista investigativo Seymour Hersh divulgou a história na esfera pública. Uma onda de horror cresceu no público americano, que já estava cansado da guerra. Centenas de testemunhas foram chamadas. As acusações incluíam assassinato, estupro, sodomia e caos. Os investigadores originais recomendaram 30 processos pelas atrocidades e mais 30 pelo encobrimento.

O Exército, já sob intensa pressão por sua conduta no Vietnã, não ligou para esses números. Apenas um quarto deles seria julgado. Apenas um homem foi condenado por suas ações em My Lai, o comandante da unidade, William Calley. Ele foi condenado à prisão perpétua com trabalhos forçados, mas o grande humanitário, Richard M. Nixon, concedeu a Calley muito mais misericórdia do que o tenente havia concedido aos aldeões de My Lai, e comutou a sentença.

As imagens e a história de My Lai representaram uma importante reviravolta na atitude do público em relação ao Vietnã. Além de seu horror pelo massacre real, o manejo dos processos revoltou os americanos de quase todas as partes do espectro político.

Não apenas Calley serviu de bode expiatório para as ações de sua unidade, mas sua punição nem mesmo remotamente se ajustou à magnitude do crime. O Exército tentou minimizar o evento, continuando a subestimar as vítimas e a violência por muitos anos. O governo americano se recusou a reconhecer o evento em intercâmbios diplomáticos.

Demorou 30 anos para os poucos soldados que defenderam vidas inocentes obterem medalhas do Congresso e, mesmo assim, as lutas internas entre os chefes do Exército tornaram o processo de reconhecimento de Thompson e Colburn tortuoso, muito depois de os EUA terem dado o fora do Vietnã.

Houve tantos horrores sobre os eventos em My Lai e as ações dos militares em suas conseqüências, que era difícil para a maioria das pessoas descobrir por onde começar a se enfurecer.


Calley considerado culpado de 22 assassinatos

O tenente William L. Calley foi condenado ontem à noite pelo assassinato de 22 pessoas na vila sul-vietnamita de My Lai durante um massacre de civis por soldados americanos.

Calley (27) foi acusado de assassinar 102 pessoas. Ele foi acusado de matar ou ordenar a morte de 30 pessoas em My Lai, matar ou ordenar a morte de 70 pessoas em uma vala, matar um monge idoso e matar um bebê.

O júri condenou Calley por assassinato premeditado nas três primeiras acusações e agressão com intenção de matar na quarta. Foi declarado culpado por uma das 30 mortes na aldeia e 20 das 70 mortes na vala. Ele foi condenado por assassinar o monge e por agredir o bebê com a intenção de matar.

O júri decidirá a sentença ainda hoje. A pena máxima para as três primeiras acusações é a execução e a mínima é a prisão perpétua. Ele poderia ser condenado à prisão perpétua sob a acusação de agredir o bebê com a intenção de matar. O voto unânime dos seis oficiais do exército no júri é necessário para a sentença de morte.

Calley, de Miami, Flórida, pareceu aceitar o veredicto com calma. Quando o júri entrou na pequena sala do tribunal, Calley levantou-se e saudou energicamente o capataz, o coronel Clifford H. Ford, que leu imediatamente o veredicto.

Após o veredicto, Calley fez continência novamente e saiu do tribunal entre dois de seus quatro advogados.

O júri deliberou durante 79 horas e 58 minutos, ao longo de 13 dias. O julgamento durou quatro meses. Calley estava relaxando em seu apartamento na base do exército quando soube por seu advogado, o capitão Brooks Doyle, que um veredicto havia sido alcançado. Calley vestiu o uniforme e o capitão Doyle o levou ao tribunal.

Após o veredicto, ele foi levado pela polícia militar e confinado em uma cela de oficial composta por dois pequenos quartos. A cela é normalmente usada por um capelão como escritório quando não é ocupada por um prisioneiro. Um guarda ficará com Calley em um dos quartos, a menos que esteja consultando seus advogados ou sendo visitado por membros de sua família.

O caso ainda pode continuar por anos. Calley tem pelo menos três chances de apelar que podem afetar o veredicto. Sua primeira chance de reversão ou redução da seriedade da condenação viria de uma "autoridade líder" que revisaria automaticamente o caso. Normalmente teria sido o General Orwin Talbott, comandante do Fort Benning, onde o julgamento foi realizado, que em setembro de 1969 ordenou formalmente a corte marcial de Calley. Mas ele foi desclassificado porque participou de certos assuntos administrativos durante a corte marcial.

O exército provavelmente pedirá a alguém em um comando semelhante ao de Talbott para fazer a revisão em cerca de dois meses. Se ele aprovasse o veredicto, um recurso automático seria feito ao Tribunal de Revisão de Washington.

Se Calley perdesse lá, ele poderia apelar para o Tribunal de Apelações Militares, o último recurso em casos militares. Um de seus advogados, o Sr. George Latimer, é considerado um especialista em recursos. Ele já disse que depois de esgotados os movimentos militares, ele entraria nos tribunais civis federais em nível distrital em Washington e, se necessário, lutaria até a Suprema Corte dos Estados Unidos.

O veredicto veio quatro horas depois que o juiz, coronel Reid Kennedy, realizou uma audiência para determinar se ele deveria incitar o júri de seis oficiais do exército a acelerar sua deliberação por causa da pressão sobre Calley.

A convicção de Calley provavelmente gerará indignação pública em quase todos os lugares dos Estados Unidos, exceto, surpreendentemente, no próprio exército.

Liberais e conservadores, por motivos diversos, estão unidos na questão. Conservadores - como o governador do Alabama - dizem que é um ultraje para um soldado americano arriscar sua vida em combate e depois voltar para casa para ser julgado. Os liberais - como o ex-congressista Charles Welkner, da Geórgia - acreditam que é errado escolher um homem para punição e, ao mesmo tempo, dispensar todos os outros envolvidos no massacre de My Lai.

Latimer diz que Calley recebeu milhares de cartas de apoio e apenas cerca de 10 atacando-o. Os cidadãos locais estão chateados com o julgamento. "Eles deviam dar-lhe uma medalha", disse uma garçonete: "Acho que eles estão indo longe demais." Os restaurantes onde Calley janta se recusam a permitir que ele pague por suas refeições. Se ele pára para tomar um copo de cerveja, o cliente geralmente paga por ele.

Mas os oficiais do exército, principalmente os mais jovens, parecem ter esperado que o júri fosse contra ele. Dois jovens capitães invadiram a sala de imprensa no julgamento de Calley um dia para castigar um repórter de televisão local. Eles disseram que suas histórias eram tendenciosas a favor de Calley, que admitiu ter matado pelo menos alguns civis em My Lai.

"Você não está apresentando uma imagem justa para a comunidade", disse um deles. "É importante que conheçamos o lado da acusação da história. Se ele for dispensado, isso dará licença a todos que saírem da Escola de Oficiais para ir ao Vietnã e matar quem quiserem."

Um jovem capitão, que - como Calley - havia sido líder de pelotão no Vietnã, disse quando a trilha começou em novembro:

"Se ele fez o que eles disseram que fez, eles deveriam enforcá-lo. Eu rastejei sobre a minha barriga por oito meses ali, e não estuprei ninguém, e também não atirei neles, a menos que atirassem em mim. "


Corte marcial do tenente Calley: manobras legais nos bastidores

O tenente William Calley, com seu advogado civil e militar, dirige-se a uma audiência pré-julgamento em Fort Benning, Geórgia, em 20 de janeiro de 1970. Quando o julgamento começou em 17 de novembro, foi o culminar de um processo legal que havia começado em 5 de setembro de 1969.

Em certo sentido, a corte marcial do 1º Tenente William Laws Calley Jr. começou na frente da minha mesa no Infantry Hall, a sede e centro acadêmico da Escola de Infantaria do Exército dos EUA em Fort Benning, Geórgia. Era o final da manhã de quarta-feira em 5 de setembro de 1969. O coronel Earl C. Acuff, subcomandante assistente da escola e o homem encarregado de dirigir as operações do dia-a-dia, estava sem fôlego após sua rápida descida pelas escadas do escritório do comandante da escola, major-general Orwin C. Talbott, um andar acima.

Não era típico de Acuff estar bufando e sem fôlego. Um mestre pára-quedista, ele usava o distintivo de Combat Infantryman com duas estrelas, denotando o serviço como um soldado de infantaria na Segunda Guerra Mundial, Coréia e Vietnã. Durante a Guerra da Coréia, o ROTC graduado da Universidade de Idaho liderou o 1º Batalhão, 17º Regimento de Infantaria da 7ª Divisão de Infantaria em Pork Chop Hill e Old Baldy. No Vietnã, ele comandou a 3ª Brigada da 1ª Divisão de Infantaria. Quando Acuff foi incumbido em 1965 de avaliar o programa de treinamento de Ranger em Benning, ele se colocou no curso, tornando-se, aos 47 anos, o soldado mais velho a se formar no rigoroso programa e ganhar a guia Ranger.

Fui secretário adjunto da Escola de Infantaria. Parado na frente da minha mesa, Acuff foi direto ao ponto: "Quem é o melhor escritor que temos na escola?"

Eu estava acostumado a lidar com todos os tipos de pedidos de informação, mas este me pegou de surpresa. "Que tipo de escritor você está procurando, senhor?" Eu perguntei. “Que tipo de projeto é?”

“Não sei todos os detalhes”, explicou Acuff. “Aparentemente, é algum tipo de crime de guerra. Tem interesse desde a Casa Branca e o Pentágono. Pelo que entendi, há um primeiro-tenente designado para a Brigada Escolar que será liberado do serviço ativo amanhã. Precisamos sinalizar seus registros hoje para que ele não possa ser dispensado e eu preciso nomear um investigador do Artigo 32 e ter os pedidos cortados hoje. ”

Nos termos do artigo 32 do Código Uniforme da Justiça Militar, uma investigação pré-julgamento é necessária antes de uma “corte marcial geral”, o prazo para um julgamento militar envolvendo os crimes mais graves, pode ser convocada. Uma investigação do Artigo 32 é muito parecida com uma investigação do grande júri na vida civil. Dada a gravidade das alegadas acusações - crimes de guerra - e o alto nível de interesse em Washington, Acuff exigia um escritor experiente e maduro, capaz de conduzir uma investigação pré-julgamento completa e produzir um relatório claro e conciso sobre se uma corte marcial era justificada .

Fiz uma lista de verificação mental das dezenas de oficiais qualificados que então serviam na equipe e no corpo docente da Escola de Infantaria e analisei os nomes em potencial enquanto Acuff esperava. De repente, eu tinha um nome para oferecer a ele.

“Dewey Cameron”, eu disse. O tenente-coronel Duane “Dewey” Cameron, presidente do Departamento de Liderança, foi o candidato lógico. Seu departamento não apenas ensinava liderança, mas também supervisionava programas de instrução em redação militar. Ele era um oficial altamente considerado, um membro da Pensilvânia comissionado pelo programa ROTC da Universidade de Ohio. Cameron escreveu a melhor prosa da escola. Ele era um oficial maduro, imperturbável e experiente que poderia lidar com todas as sensibilidades da investigação.

Acuff repetiu o nome. “Dewey Cameron. Claro, é isso. " Ele sorriu, sabendo que a escolha certa tinha sido feita. Ele repetiu o nome, depois se virou e subiu correndo as escadas para informar Talbott sobre o nomeado para oficial de investigação.

Naquela tarde, Cameron foi nomeado para conduzir uma investigação nos termos do Artigo 32 em circunstâncias envolvendo supostos assassinatos de não-combatentes na aldeia de My Lai 4, na província de Quang Ngai, no norte do Vietnã do Sul, em 16 de março de 1968, por Calley, então membro do a 23ª Divisão de Infantaria (Americal).

A investigação do Artigo 32 de Cameron, que levou vários meses, resultou na corte marcial de Calley. O julgamento começou em 17 de novembro de 1970 e terminou com uma condenação em 29 de março de 1971. O longo processo chamou a atenção do público e levou à condenação generalizada do Exército e de seu pessoal, aumentando ainda mais a antipatia pela guerra no Vietnã. Embora Calley tenha sido acusado pessoalmente do assassinato de 22 civis sul-vietnamitas, cerca de 504 podem ter sido mortos por membros de seu pelotão.

O general de quatro estrelas aposentado Matthew B. Ridgway, em artigo de opinião publicado em O jornal New York Times em 2 de abril de 1971, chamou as revelações da corte marcial de My Lai de "golpes dolorosos".

Ocorreu um encobrimento organizado dentro da Divisão Americana, presumivelmente alcançando todo o caminho até o comandante da divisão, major-general Samuel W. Koster, de acordo com as conclusões de uma comissão chefiada pelo tenente-general William R. Peers.

O encobrimento começou quase imediatamente. No dia do massacre, 16 de março de 1968, repórteres da coletiva de imprensa diária dos militares dos EUA em Saigon foram informados: “Em uma ação hoje, as forças da Divisão Americana mataram 128 inimigos perto da cidade de Quang Ngai. Helicópteros de artilharia e missões de artilharia apoiaram os elementos terrestres ao longo do dia. ” Com carreiras em jogo para os líderes americanos em níveis de divisão, brigada, força-tarefa e companhia, nenhuma menção foi feita às terríveis baixas de civis. Em vez disso, as baixas do inimigo foram reivindicadas.

O relatório da Comissão de Pares concluiu que pelo menos 175 a 200 homens, mulheres e crianças vietnamitas do sul foram mortos, incluindo talvez três ou quatro soldados vietcongues confirmados, embora “houvesse, sem dúvida, vários VC desarmados (homens, mulheres e crianças) entre eles e muito mais apoiadores e simpatizantes ativos. ”

A comissão investigou 14 oficiais direta ou indiretamente envolvidos com a operação, incluindo Koster e seu comandante de divisão assistente, Brig. Gen. George H. Young Jr. O comandante da força-tarefa do tamanho de um batalhão que incluía a companhia de Calley, o tenente-coronel Frank Barker, foi morto em um acidente de helicóptero antes da investigação.

Na primeira semana de setembro de 1969, enquanto Calley se preparava para ser dispensado do serviço ativo, ficou claro para o Exército que ele havia participado de alguma maneira nas mortes em My Lai. Assim, o chefe do Estado-Maior do Departamento do Exército, general William Westmoreland, anteriormente o principal comandante no Vietnã, instruiu Fort Benning a iniciar o inquérito do Artigo 32 para que Calley pudesse ser mantido na ativa se uma corte marcial fosse justificada.

Com a nomeação de Cameron como investigador do Artigo 32 em 5 de setembro de 1969, o escritório de informações públicas de Fort Benning emitiu um nebuloso comunicado à imprensa sobre uma investigação de um primeiro-tenente do Exército por suas ações no Vietnã. O lançamento foi amplamente ignorado pela mídia.

Quando o repórter investigativo Seymour Hersh divulgou a história completa do massacre em 12 de novembro de 1969, e ela apareceu em 30 jornais de todo o país, o público americano ficou indignado com a atrocidade. As revistas Time e Life publicaram relatórios detalhados com fotos no final de novembro e início de dezembro de 1969. Grande parte do apoio do público americano à Guerra do Vietnã diminuiu ainda mais.

Naquela época, a força das tropas americanas no Vietnã, que havia atingido o pico de 543.400 em abril de 1969, estava diminuindo sob o programa de retirada gradual do presidente Richard Nixon. Em 1971, a contagem de tropas no Vietnã caiu para 156.800.

Nenhum dos restantes queria ser a última vítima em uma guerra cada vez mais impopular. O Exército foi atormentado por incidentes de fragmentação, recusa em obedecer ordens, abuso de drogas e deserções. No território continental dos Estados Unidos, unidades outrora orgulhosas, como a 1ª Divisão de Infantaria em Fort Riley, Kansas, e a 5ª Divisão de Infantaria (mecanizada) em Fort Carson, Colorado, tornaram-se áreas de contenção para veteranos de volta do Vietnã, com o consequente colapso na disciplina militar.

Era, portanto, uma pequena maravilha que Ridgway pudesse oferecer em O jornal New York Times uma ladainha de desgraças que revelou o triste estado do Exército americano em 1971, com as circunstâncias em My Lai “as mais prejudiciais de todas”. V

Bob Orkand, um tenente-coronel aposentado, serviu no Vietnã como oficial executivo e oficial de operações do 1º Batalhão (Airmobile), 7ª Cavalaria, 1ª Divisão de Cavalaria (Airmobile) 1967-68. Ele comandou um batalhão de infantaria mecanizado em Fort Benning na 197ª Brigada de Infantaria 1972-73, um protótipo do Exército voluntário. Em 1974, ele foi o porta-voz do Pentágono no Exército voluntário. Ele foi coautor de um estudo sobre as deficiências do rifle M16, Misfire: The Tragic Failure of the M16 in Vietnam (2019). Orkand mora em Huntsville, Texas.

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Meu Lai: Onde estavam os líderes?

O tenente William Calley é flanqueado por um advogado assistente civil não identificado (L) e um oficial de escolta do Exército não identificado, enquanto ele sai de uma audiência preliminar de corte marcial a portas fechadas.

Tivesse um líder forte se apresentado, a atrocidade que tanto maculou a América poderia ter sido evitada.

Já se passaram mais de quatro décadas desde aquela manhã de 1968, e mesmo assim os oficiais do Exército, quase todos homens, ainda se perguntam como o massacre de My Lai poderia ter ocorrido. O que aconteceu com a cadeia de comando quando uma das piores manchas que mancharam o uniforme do Exército dos EUA em seus dois séculos de história ocorreu? Em 16 de março de 1968, onde estavam os líderes?

O que aconteceu em My Lai foi investigado de forma mais do que adequada pelo Inquérito de Pares e os julgamentos do 2º Tenente William Calley, Capitão Ernest Medina e vários outros oficiais e homens alistados que estavam presentes durante os assassinatos naquela manhã. Ao todo, 14 oficiais e soldados foram acusados, alguns como resultado do massacre e outros pelo encobrimento que se seguiu. Os livros sobre My Lai e as consequências são numerosos demais para listar, e poucas perguntas sobre o que realmente aconteceu no terreno permanecem sem resposta. Mas o que permanece uma questão em aberto - e a cicatriz mais sórdida da Guerra do Vietnã ainda por curar - é como a liderança, ou a falta dela, permitiu que tal atrocidade acontecesse.

As implicações do massacre foram muito além de sua desumanidade e horror. Isso alimentou um intenso sentimento anti-guerra entre o público americano e contribuiu para a erosão do apoio à vitória nas mentes de políticos e funcionários do Pentágono.

DURANTE A GUERRA, uma das grandes fraquezas da cadeia de comando - desde os níveis mais altos do Departamento de Defesa, passando pelo General William Westmoreland até o nível de pelotão - foi o vício em estatísticas como medida de vitória. O pior deles era a contagem de corpos. Essa estatística contribuiu para uma mentalidade do GI médio e de seus líderes que transformava qualquer vietnamita morto em um vietcongue (VC) morto. E mais VC mortos encontrados após um tiroteio produziu uma taxa de morte mais favorável, portanto, uma unidade teve um melhor desempenho sob fogo do que outra unidade. Os comandantes foram comparados - e avaliados - por suas viagens de comando de "perfuração de bilhetes" de seis meses, e o sucesso no comando quase sempre garantia a um oficial que ele seria promovido ao próximo nível superior. Low body counts and unfavorable kill ratios, by contrast, tended to ensure that a commander would be passed over for his next promotion. The body count became the Vietnam War’s Holy Grail.

The rotational policy of the Army undermined command effectiveness. As someone once said, “The Americans don’t have 10 years experience in Vietnam they have one year’s experience repeated 10 times over.” Many battalion and brigade commanders were rotated into and out of command positions every six months so that everyone would have an opportunity to command. The effectiveness of the chain of command was diminished each time a new commander came in for his six-month tour.

During Tet in 1968, the U.S. military was shocked by the extent of the attacks on its bases. Normally there is a truce during the celebration of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, but the North Vietnamese Army violated that truce with largescale assaults. The reality suddenly changed from what most Americans believed to be a winning strategy to growing doubt about the conduct of the war. Although Tet was a tactical failure militarily for the Communists, it was a dramatic success for them psychologically.

In I Corps, north of My Lai, Hue was overrun and seized by the NVA in the early days of February 1968. It took weeks of counterattacks and desperate fighting by the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and the U.S. Marines to free the ancient city. When, on February 25, Hue was finally cleared of enemy troops, mass graves were discovered that contained thousands of Hue citizens who had been murdered by the NVA or VC. As these reports filtered down to the units in the southern portion of I Corps, the fear of the NVA and loathing for the VC grew to extremes. It was in this environment that the plan to attack and eliminate the Viet Cong’s 48th Main Force Battalion was hatched.

No written plan exists for the My Lai operation—at least, none has ever been found. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker, the task force commander, was well known for his disjointed briefings. Evidence from testimony at the trials leads one to believe that Barker made a plan, albeit a poor tactical plan. He was unclear on what was expected of his company commanders, and failed to explain the specific mission of each unit or how they would support each other during the combat operation. Barker never had an opportunity to shed light on the mission himself, as he was killed in a helicopter crash just weeks after My Lai.

As George Latimer, Calley’s chief defense lawyer, said: “Company C should never have been sent on this kind of mission, with a state of training woefully inadequate…. You can’t go in like a gang of isolationists, each man for himself and let the devil take care of the others. It is a hornbook principle that fear and stark terror is present in a unit on its first combat assault, and when raw troops are used disaster is the result.”

What is known is that Barker sent his weakest company against what was believed to be the enemy’s strongest point. My Lai was supposedly the headquarters of the 48th Main Force Battalion and guarded by a well-trained enemy unit of as many as 280 soldiers. Clearly this was a major tactical error. No competent commander would ever send a weak unit to attack a numerically superior, well-entrenched enemy unit—let alone an attacking unit that had little or no real combat experience. Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment (1-20th Infantry), commanded by Captain Medina, had suffered 25 percent casualties in its 90 days in country, and it had never been in a real firefight. Lieutenant Calley’s platoon alone had lost 18 soldiers—one killed and 17 wounded. Yet, at no time had the platoon actually engaged the enemy in a straight-up firefight. All Calley’s casualties had come from snipers, mines or booby traps. By March 16, this normally 45-man-strong platoon was reduced to only 27. An understrength green platoon led by an inept second lieutenant was now going to charge directly into the lion’s den, with no consideration of a flank attack or an encircling envelopment. This was to be the Charge of the Light Brigade redux, but in the rice paddies of Vietnam and with only 27 soldiers in lieu of 600.

Normally, for the attacking force to have any opportunity for success, it must have a combat advantage of at least three-to-one, especially when attacking a well-trained unit. In this instance, the formula was exactly the reverse. How could Barker have made such a decision? If he believed the intelligence, which turned out to be wrong, Barker was either one of the most incompetent comanders in Vietnam…or simply one of the stupidest.

From testimony given at the trials, it was determined that Barker had placed one of his rifle companies, A Company, 3-1st Infantry, north of the Diem Diem River, more than 1,500 meters away from My Lai and the other company, Bravo, 4-3rd Infantry, east of My Lai by approximately the same distance. Their initial mission was to block, followed by a task to sweep southward along the coast of the South China Sea. C Company, 1-20th Infantry, Captain Medina’s command, was to sweep the village of My Lai. Because of the distances and terrain involved, in these locations none of the companies could be mutually supporting. Certainly, this was a disaster in the making if Task Force Barker was to be attacking a 250-man-strong Main Force Viet Cong battalion dug in at My Lai. Fortunately for Barker’s men, it was not.

Captain Medina compounded this bad situation by sending Lieutenant Calley’s platoon into this so-called Viet Cong stronghold first. Medina had little respect for Calley and stated so on several occasions. Plus, the backbone of Calley’s platoon, Sergeant George Cox, who was well respected by the men, had been killed only two days earlier. It was a macabre scene as Cox was mortally wounded by a booby trap that went off directly between his legs, splitting his insides open. The entire platoon watched in horror as he lay dying, screaming for relief from the excruciating pain.

At the briefing the night prior to the attack on My Lai, Medina and Calley encouraged a pep-rally-like atmosphere, suggesting that they were going to get “those bastards” who killed Sergeant Cox. The air assault was scheduled for 0730. Based on what he believed to be accurate intelligence, Medina told his company that there would be few, if any, noncombatants left in My Lai by that time, as they would have departed for the market by 0700.

This was yet another intelligence error coming from the Task Force Headquarters, added to the poor preparation by the leaders of Medina’s company—who by this time had completely misunderstood the true situation in My Lai. In fact, some intelligence officers at 23rd (“Americal”) Infantry Division headquarters knew that the 48th Viet Cong Battalion was far from My Lai, but classifications on the use of radio intercepts would not allow them to divulge its location to Task Force Barker. The 48th was actually resting in the mountains west of Quang Ngai, licking its wounds from battles fought in the Tet Offensive.

The normal organization of infantry maneuver units consists of brigades commanded by colonels, battalions commanded by lieutenant colonels, companies commanded by captains and platoons led by lieutenants. In the case of the Americal Division, prior to Colonel Oran K. Henderson’s assumption of command on March 15 and for reasons that are not entirely clear, the 11th Light Infantry Brigade had formed a special unit. Its purpose was to conduct search-and-destroy missions in the area north and east of Quang Ngai city. This task force was composed of units that would normally have been assigned to different battalions and would have been accustomed to the operating procedures of those respective commanders. However, these separate units were joined under the command of Lt. Col. Barker. This ad hoc organization was born as Task Force Barker about two months prior to the massacre.

Having assumed command of the 11th Brigade the day prior to the My Lai massacre, Colonel Henderson obviously did not know the strengths or weaknesses of the leaders within his brigade. He had never met them, had never seen their performance under fire and had no knowledge about his subordinate leaders’ abilities under stress. Nevertheless, whether in command for a day or for a year, a commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do.

Up until March 16, Task Force Barker had little direct contact with the enemy. It was the tactic of the 48th Battalion to avoid a firefight with American forces. The VC knew that the massive firepower of an American infantry battalion, plus its supporting artillery and helicopter gunships, could rain devastation down on them. Tet was the only time the 48th came out into open combat, and then it was severely wounded and probably would have been destroyed had its men not slipped into the outskirts of Quang Ngai city. The American forces were unable to get clearance to fire with their heavy weapons while the 48th hid in the coastal lowlands, heavily populated by rice farmers and where free-fire zones were few and far between. The 48th was then able to escape to the mountains, most likely marching down Highway 516 through the Viet Cong–friendly Nghia Hanh District.

Although Captain Medina lacked experience, he had responded well when his company was trapped in a minefield on February 25. Charlie Company suffered three killed and 12 wounded that day, but Medina was able to lead his troops out and was decorated for his actions.

Lieutenant Calley, up to this point in his life, had hardly been successful at anything. Standing only 5 feet 3 inches tall, the 24-year-old was unemployed when he entered the Army. He was selected for Officer Candidate School and graduated 127th out of 156 in his class. Calley had been in Vietnam just 90 days prior to March 16, and during that time the diminutive lieutenant had not gained the respect of his men on the contrary, they regarded him as a joke and made snide comments behind his back. The men often did not follow his instructions and sometimes directly disobeyed his orders. In spite of this, Calley saw himself as a tough, hard-core infantry leader.

This was an extremely weak chain of command.

On the morning of March 16, an understrength American infantry rifle company air assaulted into a rice paddy just west of My Lai, expecting to confront a combat-hardened enemy battalion of 250 Viet Cong. Captain Medina’s company was going to attack the dug-in enemy battalion while the two other rifle companies of Task Force Barker lay waiting in blocking positions to blast away at the fleeing Viet Cong—like quail flushed from a grain field.

Fear was uppermost in the minds of these men as the helicopter rotors slapped the air en route to My Lai and to what would be their first close combat with the enemy. Some said silent prayers. Others simply cursed and shivered.

At 0730 the helicopters of the 174th Assault Helicopter Company dropped Calley’s platoon into the wet rice paddy. As they delivered their troops, the gunships fired away with machine guns to provide them with cover. As soon as the choppers pulled up and were gone, quiet descended upon the soldiers left lurking behind rice paddy dikes.

Return fire should have been intense, but not a single enemy shot was heard. The silence—the lack of that unmistakable crack of rifle fire—was overwhelming, and unnerving. Where was the 48th Battalion? Had the Viet Cong somehow mysteriously disappeared? Were they waiting in ambush?

After a short delay, Calley ordered his men to move out toward My Lai. The fear turned into hate as the soldiers waded through the mud, closing on the first huts of the village. There the horror began.

The law of unintended consequences seems always to rear its head when given the opportunity. This was just such a case. But, when Murphy’s Law comes into play, it is the leaders who must correct the situation—the strong leaders for whom the U.S. Army is so well known. Were there none on the ground at My Lai? Or overhead?

Flying above My Lai in their command and control (C&C) helicopters were the commanders and their staffs. Crammed with radios, bristling with antennae and M-60 machine guns, the C&Cs orbited in slow counterclockwise circles. The airborne staff personnel shuffled maps covered with multicolored grease pencil marks while they listened to every transmission from the ground below. Nestled in their armor-plated seats, the commanders looked down from an altitude of 1,000 to 2,500 feet. What were they seeing?

It appears that these commanders and their flying staffs were turning a blind eye to the bloody scene below. At 0930 Colonel Henderson did report to the Americal Division commander, Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster, that he saw 10 or so dead. If he could see 10, how could he have failed to see the rest of the carnage exposed to aerial view in drainage ditches around the village? It was reported that more than 100 old men, women and children had been killed by their men in the vicinity of My Lai by this time. What were the commanders of these men doing while orbiting over the village?

Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, his door gunner and his crew chief from the 123rd Aviation Battalion did see the horror unfolding below. Thompson took immediate action and landed his helicopter to rescue some wounded women and children from the scene of terror. In order to accomplish this heroic mission, Thompson ordered his gunner, Laurence Colburn, and his crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, to threaten members of Calley’s platoon if they wouldn’t allow him to fly the women and children away to safety. Thompson immediately reported what he had witnessed to his chain of command: first his platoon leader, then his operations officer and finally to Major Frederic Watkes, who then alerted Lt. Col. Barker.

The commander on the ground, Captain Medina, was now far in the rear, while Calley was personally killing old men, women and children in a ditch on the east side of the village. Photos taken by Army photographer Ron Haeberle captured the stark terror in the victims’ faces moments before they were killed by Calley’s automatic rifle.

The laws of land warfare explicitly protect noncombatants. When captured, they must be treated as prisoners of war or detainees. In any case they may not be executed.

Is it believable that among all the commanders and their airborne staff members who flew above My Lai on that fateful morning, not a single one of them saw the death and destruction that was being inflicted on the villagers? From 1,000 feet it is easy to distinguish an American soldier in his green jungle fatigues from a black pajama–clad Vietnamese. One could not fail to recognize the tangled corpses, heaped on both the south and east sides of this village.

The entire chain of command failed in its duty.

My Lai was a horrific outcome of failed leadership. A leader would have taken immediate disciplinary action against any soldier or officer who violated the universal law for protection of noncombatants. Had there been a single strong leader in the chain of command from General Koster to Lieutenant Calley, the massacre might have been stopped in its initial phase, saving dozens of old men, women and children from death. Instead, today visitors can read the names of 504 civilian victims on a memorial erected at My Lai.

Precisely because no battle plan survives the first shot, it is the unequivocal responsibility of leaders to be prepared for unusual contingencies—to go to the sound of firing so as to lead their men.

At My Lai on March 16, 1968, there were no leaders.

Ben G. Crosby was operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry in Vietnam and also served in the 82nd Airborne, 1st Cavalry, 25th Infantry and 101st Air Assault. Crosby was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and four Bronze Star Medals.

Originally published in the April 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. Para se inscrever, clique aqui.


Lt. William Calley charged for My Lai massacre - HISTORY

On March 16, 1968 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai. "This is what you've been waiting for -- search and destroy -- and you've got it," said their superior officers. A short time later the killing began. When news of the atrocities surfaced, it sent shockwaves through the U.S. political establishment, the military's chain of command, and an already divided American public.

Poised for Conflict
My Lai lay in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, a heavily mined area where the Vietcong were deeply entrenched. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the village poised for engagement with their elusive enemy.

Massacre
As the "search and destroy" mission unfolded, it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.

Call for Investigation
Word of the atrocities did not reach the American public until November 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with a Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calley's being charged with murder in September 1969 -- a full two months before the Hersh story hit the streets.

Questions About Soldiers' Conduct
As the gruesome details of My Lai reached the American public, serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. A military commission investigating the massacre found widespread failures of leadership, discipline, and morale among the Army's fighting units. As the war progressed, many "career" soldiers had either been rotated out or retired. Many more had died. In their place were scores of draftees whose fitness for leadership in the field of battle was questionable at best. Military officials blamed inequities in the draft policy for the often slim talent pool from which they were forced to choose leaders. Many maintained that if the educated middle class ("the Harvards," as they were called) had joined in the fight, a man of Lt. William Calley's emotional and intellectual stature would never have been issuing orders.

Orders from Above?
Calley, an unemployed college dropout, had managed to graduate from Officer's Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1967. At his trial, Calley testified that he was ordered by Captain Ernest Medina to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. Still, there was only enough photographic and recorded evidence to convict Calley, alone, of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 1974, following many appeals. After being issued a dishonorable discharge, Calley entered the insurance business.


Vida pregressa

Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. was born on April 15, 1943, in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, to Wessie and Hugh Clowers Thompson. Hugh Clowers Thompson Sr. was an electrician and served in the United States Navy during the Second World War. Thompson’s father played the main role in his children’s education. He educated his children to act with discipline and integrity.

Hugh Thompson Jr. in South Vietnam, 1968 (Photo: U.S. Army)

Hugh Thompson Jr. graduated from Stone Mountain High School on June 5, 1961. Following graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in a naval mobile construction battalion at Naval Air Station Atlanta, Georgia, as a heavy equipment operator. In 1964, Thompson received an honorable discharge from the Navy and returned to Stone Mountain to live a quiet life and raise a family with his wife. He studied mortuary science and became a licensed funeral director.

When the Vietnam War began, Thompson felt obliged to return to military service. In 1966, Thompson enlisted in the United States Army and completed the Warrant Officer Flight Program training at Fort Wolters, Texas, and Fort Rucker, Alabama. In late-December 1967, at the age of 25, Hugh Thompson was ordered to Vietnam and assigned to Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Division.


The Shameful History of the My Lai Massacre

What was the My Lai Massacre?

The My Lai Massacre was a brutal event in the Vietnam War where 347-504 unarmed citizens (mostly women and children) in South Vietnam were savagely murdered. The My Lai Massacre was conducted by a unit of the United States Army on March 16, 1968.

A number of the victims of the My Lai massacre were beaten, raped, tortured and some of the bodies were mutilated post mortem. The My Lai Massacre occurred in the hamlets of My Lai and the My Khe village during the Vietnam War. Originally 26 soldiers of the United States armed forces unit were initially charged for these criminal offenses, only soldier William Calley was convicted. Calley, who was convicted with the killing of 22 civilians during the My Lai massacre, was originally given a life sentence however, the soldier only served three years under house arrest.’

When the My Lai Massacre tragedy went public, the news prompted widespread outrage throughout the globe. The My Lai Massacre also augmented the domestic opposition towards the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

On the morning of March 16, 1968 Charlie Company landed in the hamlets of My Lai where they found no enemy resistance. The troops initially figured that the opposition was hiding underground in their family’s homes a belief that prompted the American soldiers to enter homes and start shooting. Once the first civilians were killed by indiscriminate fire, the soldiers went on attack, shooting at humans and animals of the village with heavy firearms, bayonets and grenades.

Large groups of villagers were rounded up by the 1st Platoon and executed via orders given by Second Lieutenant William Calley. In addition to these egregious orders, Calley also shot two other groups of civilians with a weapon he took form a soldier who had refused to participate in further killings.

After the initial killing executed by the 1st and 2nd Platoons, a 3rd platoon entered to deal with any “remaining resistance.” Over the next two days, the battalions were involved in additional destructions as well as the mistreatment of prisoners of war. While the majority of soldiers had not participated in these crimes, they neither protested nor complained to their superiors to halt the brutal killings.

The total body count of the May Lai massacre was never made tangible the memorial at the site lists 504 names, but the United States’ investigation revealed 347 deaths. The first reports of the May Lai massacre, in an effort to cover-up the savage slayings, claimed that “128 Viet Cong and 22 Civilians” were killed in the village during a fire fight.

On November 17, 1970 the United States Army charged 14 officers involved in the May Lai massacre with suppressing information related to the incident. The majority of these were later dropped only a Bridge commander stood trial relating to the cover-up.

Captain Medina William Calley was convicted for his chief role in the May Lai Massacre on March 29, 1971. Calley was charged with premeditated murder for ordering his troops to execute the civilians. Although calley was initially sentenced to life in prison, President Richard Nixon released him from prison, pending an appeal of his sentence.


He was America’s most notorious war criminal, but Nixon helped him anyway

On the morning of March 16, 1968, William L. Calley Jr., a 24-year-old Army lieutenant, woke up in Vietnam and prepared for an attack that would end in a slaughter.

The former insurance investigator was about to become the most notorious war criminal in U.S. history. He shaved. He combed his hair. He ate scrambled eggs and a creamed hamburger, downed some coffee and poured himself six canteens of water, according to his memoir.

He gathered his ammunition, his rifle and a cartridge belt. Then he and his fellow platoon members headed in helicopters for the hamlets of My Lai in the eastern part of South Vietnam. As his chopper hovered five feet above the ground, Calley jumped out and laid down fire before entering the village. There, he and other soldiers began massacring unarmed civilians.

“The fear: nearly everyone had it. And everyone had to destroy it: My Lai, the source of it,” Calley said of that moment in his 1971 memoir, “Lieutenant Calley: His Own Story.” “And everyone moved into My Lai firing automatic. And went rapidly, and the GIs shot people rapidly. Or grenaded them. Or just bayoneted them: to stab, to throw someone aside, to go on.”

Despite a lengthy coverup, Calley was eventually charged, court-martialed at Fort Benning, Ga., convicted of murdering at least 22 people and sentenced in 1971 to life in prison. But President Richard Nixon intervened on his behalf, sparing him from severe penalty. Nixon refused to allow Calley’s transfer to the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., then sprung him from Fort Benning’s stockade and ordered him placed under house arrest at his apartment on base. The president also announced he would personally review Calley’s case before any sentence took effect.

Prosecutor Aubrey M. Daniel was so livid that he wrote a letter to Nixon blasting his decision.

“Sir: It is very difficult for me to know where to begin this letter as I am not accustomed to writing letters of protest,” he said in his statement. “I have been particularly shocked and dismayed at your decision to intervene in these proceedings in the midst of public clamor. . . . Your intervention has, in my opinion, damaged the military judicial system and lessened any respect it may have gained as a result of the proceedings. . . . I would expect the President of the United States . . . would stand fully behind the law of this land on a moral issue which is so clear and about which there can be no compromise.”

As Calley appealed, the military justice system reduced his sentence to 20 years, then 10. By late 1974, he was free on bail. Two years later, he was paroled. In all, he spent just a few months behind bars at Fort Leavenworth.

Now, President Trump is considering granting pardons to servicemen accused of war crimes in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported on May 18 that the president planned to issue them over Memorial Day weekend. But Trump backed away from the plan Friday, acknowledging that pardoning men accused or convicted of war crimes is “a little bit controversial” and needed more consideration.

Military veterans and some Republicans have condemned Trump’s interest in pardoning Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who is charged with shooting unarmed civilians and killing a teenage Islamic State detainee in Iraq, then holding his reenlistment ceremony with the corpse Nicholas A. Slatten, a former Blackwater security contractor convicted of first-degree murder for his role in killing an unarmed civilian in Iraq in 2007 a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters and Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, who faces a murder charge in the death of a suspected Taliban bomb maker.

Trump already has pardoned Michael Behenna, an Army Ranger who served five years after he stripped an al-Qaeda detainee naked, interrogated him, then shot him to death in the middle of the Iraqi desert in 2008.

On Twitter, the president also called Golsteyn a “military hero” and ordered Gallagher to “less restrictive confinement” in “honor of his past service to our Country” as he awaits trial.

However, in 1971, when Nixon intervened in Calley’s case, the commander in chief’s actions appeared to contradict his earlier leanings.

In 1969, shortly after Calley was charged, Nixon released a statement calling the My Lai Massacre “a direct violation” of U.S. military policy, “abhorrent to the conscience of all the American people.” The perpetrators, he said, would be “dealt with in accordance with the strict rules of military justice.”

Later that year, he doubled down, saying “under no circumstances” was the atrocity justified.

But by the time of Calley’s conviction, public sentiment had tilted so much in his favor that Nixon had to make a huge pivot he could not afford to risk alienating himself from Calley, whose cause was uniting the left and the right.

Veterans and supporters of the Vietnam War believed Calley was simply carrying out orders and doing all he could to protect himself and the country. American Legion posts, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups organized rallies demanding presidential clemency.

In Oklahoma, a 20-car rush-hour parade carried signs that read, “Free Calley!”

“Calley’s name became a rallying cry for some hawkish soldiers, and one artillery battalion painted across one of its big guns the legend, ‘Calley’s Avenger,’” wrote New York Times journalist Richard Hammer in his 1971 book, “The Court-Martial of Lt. Calley.”

The left had his back, too, including the pediatrician Benjamin Spock, who himself beat back criminal charges that he conspired with others to persuade men to violate their draft orders. After Nixon ordered Calley released from the stockade at Fort Benning, Spock denounced his conviction: “[I]t’s too bad that one man is being made to pay for the brutality of the whole war.”

A song, “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley,” sold 200,000 copies. One passage goes like this: “My name is William Calley, I’m a soldier of this land/ I’ve tried to do my duty and to gain the upper hand/ But they’ve made me out a villain, they have stamped me with a brand/ As we go marching on/ I’m just another soldier from the shores of U.S.A./ Forgotten on the battlefield 10,000 miles away.”

Perhaps more than anything, people felt sorry for Calley. How was it that so many Vietnamese civilians could be slaughtered — at least 504 were killed — but only one person convicted of playing a direct role in the killings?

Eleven other men were charged with murder, maiming or assault with the intent to commit murder, but their cases were abandoned before trial or they were acquitted. To many, Calley was no villain. In fact, according to polls at the time of his conviction, a majority of Americans regarded him as a scapegoat.

“We as a nation cannot wipe away this blemish from the national conscience by finding one man guilty,” Sen. Frank Moss (D-Utah) and Rep. Richard Fulton (D-Tenn.) said at the time, according to Hammer’s book. “We all share the guilt.”

So who was this man who would go down as one of America’s worst war criminals?

Calley was born in June 1943, the second oldest of four children and the only boy. He grew up in a middle-class household in Miami, where his father, a World War II Navy veteran, ran a company that sold heavy construction equipment.

In school, he performed poorly and was caught cheating in seventh grade. He dropped out of his high school, joined the Florida Military Academy in Fort Lauderdale, but quit before transferring to another military academy in Georgia. He quit that academy, too, before finally settling on Miami Edison Senior High School. He graduated in 1962, ranking 666th out of 731 students.

That fall, he enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College and worked side gigs as a busboy, dishwasher, bellman, short-order cook and carwash attendant, according to Hammer’s book. At school, he flunked most of his courses. He tried to enlist in the Army in 1964, but was rejected.

He worked as a railway switchman and then as an insurance investigator. He was in San Francisco when he received word that his draft board in Miami was looking for him. He enlisted instead.

His Army superiors, apparently impressed with his military school experience, believed he should attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). In March 1967, he was sent to Fort Benning, where — again — he graduated near the bottom of his class. Calley deployed to Vietnam as a member of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade and a platoon leader in Charlie Company.

“One thing at OCS was nobody said, ‘Now, there will be innocent civilians there,’” Calley wrote in his memoir. “It was drummed into us, ‘Be sharp! On guard! As soon as you think these people won’t kill you, ZAP! In combat, you haven’t friends! You have enemies!’ Over and over at OCS we heard this and I told myself, I’ll act as if I’m never secure. As if everyone in Vietnam would do me in. As if everyone’s bad.”

After additional training in Hawaii, Calley and his fellow soldiers took a Pan Am flight to Vietnam, landing on Dec. 1, 1967. Three and a half months later, Calley and his comrades would open fire on My Lai.


Quotations: My Lai massacre

A selection of Vietnam War quotations pertaining to the My Lai massacre of March 1968. These quotations have been researched, selected and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a quotation for this collection, please contact us.

“I’m going to go over and get them out of the bunker myself. If the squad opens up on them, shoot ’em.”
Hugh Thompson, Jr., US pilot, to his crew at My Lai, March 1968

“[Hugh] Thompson landed again… walked over to this lieutenant, and I could tell they were in a shouting match. I thought they were going to get in a fistfight. He told me later what they said. Thompson: ‘Let’s get these people out of this bunker and get ’em out of here.’ Brooks: ‘We’ll get ’em out with hand grenades.’ Thompson: ‘I can do better than that. Keep your people in place. My guns are on you.’ Hugh was outranked, so this was not good to do, but that’s how committed he was to stopping it.”
Lawrence Colburn, a member of Thompson’s helicopter crew

“The most disturbing thing I saw [at My Lai] was one boy – and this is what haunts me – a boy with his arms shot off, shot up and hanging on, and he just had this bewildered look on his face, like ‘What did I do?’… He couldn’t comprehend.”
Fred Wilmer, ‘C’ Company

“He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand. He didn’t believe what was happening. Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of M-16 fire into him.”
‘Butch’ Gruver, ‘C’ Company

“It was terrible. They were slaughtering villagers like so many sheep.”
Sergeant Larry La Croix, June 1968

“I feel that they were able to carry out the assigned task, the orders that meant killing small kids, killing women, because they were trained that way. They were trained that when you get into combat, it’s either you or the enemy.”
Kenneth Hodges, ‘C’ company sergeant

“A sweep operation was conducted recently… Crazy American enemy used light machine guns and all kinds of weapons to kill our innocent civilian people in [My Lai]. Most of them were women, kids, just born babies and pregnant women. They shot everything they saw. They killed all domestic animals. They burned all people’s houses. There were 26 families killed completely – no survivors… The American wolf forgot its good sheep’s appearance. They opened mouth to eat, to drink our people blood with all their animal barbarity. Our people have only one way: it is to kill them so they can not bite anymore.”
Viet Cong radio broadcast on My Lai, 1968

“There may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs [by US military personnel] but this by no means reflects the general attitude throughout the division… In direct refutation of this [Tom Glen’s] portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.”
Colin Powell, US Army major, 1968

“Exactly what did occur in the village of Pinkville in March 1968 I do not know for certain, but I am convinced that it was something very black indeed… I feel that I must take some positive action on this matter. I hope that you will launch an investigation immediately and keep me informed of your progress. If you cannot, then I don’t know what other course of action to take.”
Ron Ridenhour, March 1969

“I have considered sending this to newspapers, magazines and broadcasting companies, but I somehow feel that investigation and action by the Congress of the United States is the appropriate procedure… As a conscientious citizen, I have no desire to further besmirch the image of the American serviceman in the eyes of the world.”
Ron Ridenhour, March 1969

“It is concluded that during the period March 16th-19th 1968, troops of Task Force Barker massacred a large number of Vietnamese nationals in the village of Son My. Knowledge as to the extent of the incident existed at company level… Efforts at division command level to conceal information concerning what was probably believed to be the killing of 20-28 civilians actually resulted in the suppression of a war crime of far greater magnitude. The commander of the 11th Brigade, upon learning that a war crime had probably been committed, deliberately set out to conceal the fact from proper authority and to deceive his commander concerning the matter.”
Summary of findings of the Peers Commission, 1970

“The only crime I have committed is in judgement of my values. Apparently, I valued my troops’ lives more than I did the lives of the enemy.”
William Calley, ‘C’ Company lieutenant

“It’s why I’m old before my time. I remember it all the time. I’m all alone and life is hard. Thinking about it has made me old… I won’t forgive as long as I live. Think of the babies being killed, then ask me why I hate them.”
A Vietnamese survivor of the My Lai massacre


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