Never Forget! Never Again!
The USAmerican War on Vietnam
My Lai Massacre
On March 16, 1968 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie
Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division entered the village of My Lai in the South Vietnamese district of Son
My, a heavily mined area of Vietcong entrenchment. 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 the elusive
Vietcong. 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
Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November of 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with ex-GI and 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. As the gruesome details of the massacre reached the American public serious questions arose concerning the conduct of American soldiers in Vietnam. A military commission investigating the My Lai massacre found widespread failures of leadership, discipline, and morale among the Army's fighting units. 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. 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.