Vietnam War Massacres
My Lai Massacre
On the morning of March 16, 1968, soldiers of Charlie Company, a unit of the American Division's 11th Infantry Brigade arrived in the hamlet of My Lai in the northern part of South Vietnam. They were on a “search and destroy” mission to root out 48th Viet Cong Battalion thought to be in the area.
The unit met no resistance in My Lai, which had about 700 inhabitants. Indeed, they saw no males of fighting age. They only found villagers eating breakfast.
Nevertheless, over the next three hours they killed as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians. Some were lined up in a drainage ditch before being shot. The dead civilians included fifty age 3 or younger, 69 between 4 and 7, and 27 in their 70s or 80s.
In addition, Vietnamese women were raped; other civilians were clubbed and stabbed. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. One soldier would testify later, "I cut their throats, cut off their hands, cut out their tongues, scalped them. I did it. A lot of people were doing it and I just followed. I lost all sense of direction." Only one American was injured - a GI who had shot himself in the foot while clearing his pistol.
In one incident, a soldier, Robert Maples, refused an order to fire his machine gun on people in a ditch, even when his commanding officer trained his own weapon him. Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot had threatened to fire on the American troops in order to rescue Vietnamese women and children from the slaughter. After seeing U.S. troops advancing on a Vietnamese family, he landed his helicopter, called in gunships to rescue the civilians, and ordered his gunner to fire on any American who interfered.
The My Lai massacre took place shortly after the Tet Office. Late in January 1968, Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers had launched attacks on urban areas across South Vietnam. Charlie Company had arrived in Vietnam three months before the My Lai massacre. Charlie Company had suffered 28 casualties, including five dead. Just two days before the massacre, on March 14, a "C" Company squadron encountered a booby trap, killing a popular sergeant, blinding one GI and wounding several others.
The 11th Brigade claimed to have killed 128 Viet Cong during the operation, which would have been the largest number killed by the Brigade in a 24 hour period. Curiously, the Brigade reported only 3 weapons captured. When Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot, claimed that civilians had been murdered, Charlie Company’s commanding officer, Ernest Medina, was asked how many civilians had been killed. Even though he had personally seen at least 100 bodies, he maintained that between 20 and 28 civilians had been killed by gunship and artillery fire. That conclusion was echoed in a report submitted a month later by the commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade, Col Oran K...