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Mar-17-2010 18:55printcomments

The 42nd Anniversary of the Massacre at My Lai

Special Exclusive Report from one year ago: Revisiting the scene of the American military's darkest day.

Images of My Lai: Chuck Palazzo
Images of My Lai: Chuck Palazzo

(QUANG NGAI, Vietnam) - There are not many events that occurred during the Vietnam War that are more horrible than what took place in the small hamlets of My Lai and My Khe (Son My) on March 16, 1968.

Calley during Vietnam

2nd Lt. William Calley, on orders from his Company Commander Captain Ernest Medina, led the troops of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, United States Army, into this peaceful village located approximately 140 kilometers south of Danang and 14 kilometers from Quang Ngai in what was then South Vietnam.

Quang Ngai had been attacked by the 48th Battalion of the National Front of the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) or what we commonly referred to as the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive of January 1968.

There were U.S. military intelligence reports that these villages had been harboring members of the 48th after Tet. None were found, however. Found were innocent men, women, and children.

Calley ordered his men to open fire on them from various positions.

The end result?

42nd anniversary of the massacre in My Lai and Son My, Vietnam

504 innocent men, women, and children killed. Murdered, raped, burned, decapitated – the gruesome list goes on, adjectives cannot begin to describe the horror or the injustice. Their villages and crops destroyed.

Generations affected by the insanity of an event that was covered up by the United States Government for eighteen months before it was finally made public. Lt. Calley was the only person brought to Court Martial and convicted.

He was tried and convicted of premeditated murder, sentenced to life in prison, only to be released two days later on orders from President Nixon pending an appeal of his sentence.

Calley’s sentence was later adjusted so that he actually served four and one-half months in a military prison. Medina was tried, but was acquitted of all charges and later admitted that he lied to his superior officers about murdering civilians.

In total, 26 men were charged, but Calley was the only person convicted. 504 deaths. 504 murders. 4 ½ months in a US military prison.

Calley is now selling jewelry in Georgia and after 40 years, mumbled an apology at a Kiwanis Club meeting last August.

One officer who helped stop the carnage is Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, an American helicopter pilot who put his own chopper between the dying and escaping innocent Vietnamese to protect them.

He ordered the American soldiers from Charlie to cease fire, and said they would open fire on them if they did not. Thompson challenged Calley directly and called for a helicopter to rescue several innocent Vietnamese civilians while doing so. He issued the same orders to his crew – shoot the Americans should they continue to shoot the Vietnamese civilians. 504 innocent Vietnamese civilians had already perished.

I spent the last two days in My Lai, My Khe and Quang Ngai. 42 years later, life continues, and the rebuilding of families and lives tries to move ahead. I left Danang yesterday morning with some very close friends who have become my own family here. They knew, more than I, the emotional experience I was about to endure.

As we drove down Highway 1, we drove past Chu Lai – I knew from my days here many years ago that we were approaching Quang Ngai. About 3 hours south of Danang, we arrived at Quang Ngai. We decided to check into our hotel and drive directly to the Museum at Son My.

When one walks into the main museum entrance, up the stairs, there is a large plaque. It is a plaque containing each of the deceased’s names and ages. I was reminded by the museum guide that even though many of the ages indicated 1, there was no way to indicate 5 months or “fetus”. The horror started to be realized. All is not fair in love and war.

42nd anniversary of the Massacre at My Lai and Son My in Vietnam

My hosts, a Vietnamese Quaker and two American Combat Veterans. The work Mr. Do, the American and Vietnamese Veterans as well as the Quakers have done in My Lai has been incredible – building houses for the poor, schools for the children.

Do invited me to lunch at a home in My Lai and of course I accepted. It was indeed a lunch I will never forget. I was welcomed by the two other American Veterans, but also by Vietnamese Veterans – men and women. Veterans of different ranks. Veterans with different beliefs. But Veterans, all of us, who shared one common goal now – to help rebuild each other’s lives, and to do so in peace.

I met, laughed and cried with Vietnamese veterans and family members who lost relatives – close relatives – that morning 42 years ago in My Lai.

One person lost 15 relatives that day. They all told me that was then, that was the war. This is now, and we must all put it behind us and build a peaceful future for us, our children and for all generations to come.

As I shared in this meal, I felt the sorrow of this land and of these people. It was on this very path that I had walked, these very steps that I had taken, that lives of the innocents were snuffed out in such a callous and monstrous way 42 years ago.

As much as we all want to put this behind us, I could not shake the feeling of death all around me. 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians slaughtered on this very spot. Incredibly, it was the Vietnamese Veterans from these hamlets who were comforting me.

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the massacre. It was a solemn event. As I looked around, I saw my friends, my fellow veterans, schoolchildren, local dignitaries. I noticed several elderly ladies standing together in the heat of the early morning, trying to shade their faces from the sun, with their cone hats their only protection.

I walked towards them as I often do here to just say good morning. I was quickly told by one of my hosts that these ladies were some of the only survivors of that day – these were the survivors of My Lai.

We found some shade on the steps of the museum that leads to the wall containing the names of those who were murdered.

They, the surviving victims, now speaking to me, smiling, looking into my eyes, holding my hands, telling me everything is OK now. I felt the agony as I held their hands, but I also saw and felt the hope that has endured in them for 42 years now.

I am heading back to Danang soon. My friends are visiting a temple at a nearby mountaintop, and I will join them.

As I look north, I still feel the death, the suffering. I still hear the cries. I have experienced too much in my years, but these past couple of days has proved to me that there is always something worse.

My hope is that society has learned something from this atrocity. No people, no country, should have to endure what the people of My Lai endured. Murder is not right, no matter what it is called or where it occurs. Governments that keep silent knowing acts of violence like this occurred are as guilty, if not worse, than the murderers themselves.

Local coverage from Vietnam: 504 roses for My Lai Massacre’s victims VietNamNet Bridge

Chuck Palazzo is a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran, the Interim Editor for Agent Orange, and a longtime Vietnam Veterans Against the War Member. Chuck Palazzo has spent years since the war studying the impacts and effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical sprayed by the U.S. govt. on the jungles of Vietnam. He says Dioxins have been re-discovered to cause all sorts of damage to humans. These include Heart Disease, Parkinsonism, Diabetes etcetera. Dioxins are already known to produce serious birth defects and a variety of cancers. The chemical is still sold in Third World Countries and causing the same problems.

We at welcome Chuck aboard and look forward to sharing more of his stories with our readers in the future.

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Chuck Palazzo March 23, 2010 4:06 am (Pacific time)

Lisa- Thank you for your comments. I cannot imagine living next door to Capt. Medina during his trial, or right after when he was found not guilty. You are correct - combat itself is not normal and very different from the psyche of war. In my opinion, war is political, combat is survival. The woman or child strapped with a vest and sent to destroy innocent victims, a victim herself and himself of religious and political fanaticism - again a very different set of circumstances. Does one make the other right? Absolutely not. Murder is murder is murder. We are talking about officer ranked US Military personnel. From Lieutenants to Captains to Colonels and as I stated, up to and including the Commander in Chief. The abnormal circumstances of combat do not excuse the wanton murder that took place at My Lai. Nor are the bombers or the victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - driven by their commanders, warlords, religious leaders to kill or destroy the supposed enemy in the name of their gods. The fact that we, the USA, has an all volunteer military makes murder all that more horrible. No one twisted our arms to join. We do so voluntarily as the word states. My point? Educate so as not to repeat the horrors of My Lai and other places. I hope and pray your brother and nephew return safely. -Chuck

Lisa Richardson March 22, 2010 11:43 pm (Pacific time)

I lived at Ft. Benning, Georgia while this trial took place. The Medina's were neighbors of ours. I also have a father who served 2 tours in Vietnam. And then returned to have the people of the USA throw eggs and tomatoes at our car when we drove by. Now my brother and my nephew serve this country in Iraq, and I hear first hand from them about the people the are HELPING. I have little time for those that stand on street corners and proselytize about the war. While I abhor what happened at My Lai, I also know that things happen in wartime that are not "normal" or what we ever want to endure IN THIS COUNTRY. That is why we have a volunteer military. Most of us cannot imagine real war, much less women and children strapped with bombs, sent to blow someone up. Perhaps the truth has many sides, much of what civilians will never understand, nor want to.

Osotan; March 21, 2010 6:59 am (Pacific time)

Semper Fi Chuck! You got heart.

Chuck Palazzo March 18, 2010 11:28 pm (Pacific time)

Tim- You and I have seen and experienced so much tragedy and I firmly believe it is our mission to tell the world of our own experiences and what we know of the past - history will certainly repeat itself unless we publicize these atrocities and those like it. Thanks for your ongoing support and very positive contributions. Semper Peace Brother. -Chuck

Chuck Palazzo March 18, 2010 11:26 pm (Pacific time)

Vic- Thanks for your comments and I couldn't agree with you more - the worst of the worst. -Chuck

Tim King March 18, 2010 12:50 pm (Pacific time)

Chuck, this was so fascinating and we can not tell people enough about My Lai and Son My and things that are taking place there today. I hope to catch up with you next year as we discussed and if so, we will shoot at least a short documentary. Healing is the answer, the work Americans have performed at My Lai is meaningful and important. The fact that Calley goes to work every day and speaks at Kiwanis Club luncheons is hard to take, but seeing My Lai survivors is something so large and awesome; I find few of our reports this interesting, Semper Peace brother.

Vic March 18, 2010 7:43 am (Pacific time)

Calley represents the absolute worst of military killers. To think that a mass murderer and his 25 cohorts were allowed to live free lives after killing over 500 people including children makes me sick. I wish Calley was selling jewelry in this town..he would be found (partially)out in the crocodile swamps..Hugh Thompson represents the best of American servicemen. Calley sh#t on every other servicemember who fought in Vietnam. Those who wanted to hate the "babykillers" had all the ammo they needed after that. I never bought into that because I knew that most of the guys over there were decent, good people who were drafted and forced there by their democratic government. Colin Powell tried to keep My Lai under wraps also...Great article...Thank You !

Joe March 17, 2010 8:23 pm (Pacific time)

Today is also Evacuation Day when the British were forced back into Canada during the American war for indenpence. Let's celebrate something more pro American for once.

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