Journalist Hersh recalls My Lai massacre 50 years on
The US journalist who broke the My Lai massacre story 50 years ago says the horror of what happened still makes him “teary”.
On March 16, 1968 US soldiers massacred more than 500 men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai.
The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, acting on a tip-off, tracked down Lt William Calley to Fort Benning, Georgia. Lt Calley had been a platoon commander at My Lai and would later be the only soldier found guilty of the massacre.
Hersh also tracked down other soldiers who were at My Lai to uncover the full horror of that day. He tells BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur there were incidents so horrific he did not include them in his original reports.
You can see the Hardtalk interview in full on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March 2018 on BBC World News and the BBC News Channel and after on BBC iPlayer (UK only).
Then came the backlash. Calley had many supporters, who condemned and harassed Thompson. He didn’t have much support — for decades. It took the Army 30 years, but in 1998, they finally acknowledged that Thompson had done something good. They awarded him the Soldier’s Medal for “heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”
“They were not combatants. They were old women, old men, children, kids, babies.”
Then Thompson and his crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, and his gunner, Lawrence Colburn, “saw some civilians hiding in a bunker, cowering, looking out the door. Saw some advancing Americans coming that way. I just figured it was time to do something, to not let these people get killed. Landed the aircraft in between the Americans and the Vietnamese, told my crew chief and gunner to cover me, got out of the aircraft, went over to the American side.”
On the 30th anniversary of the massacre, Thompson went back to My Lai and met some of the people whose lives he had saved. “There were real good highs,” he told me, “and very low lows. One of the ladies that we had helped out that day came up to me and asked, ‘Why didn’t the people who committed these acts come back with you?’ And I was just devastated. And then she finished her sentence: she said, ‘So we could forgive them.’ I’m not man enough to do that. I’m sorry. I wish I was, but I won’t lie to anybody. I’m not that much of a man.”
Nick Turse investigated violence in Vietnam against noncombatants for his book “Kill Anything that Moves.” He concluded — after a decade of research in Pentagon archives and more than 100 interviews with American veterans and Vietnamese survivors — that Americans killing civilians in Vietnam was “pervasive and systematic.” One soldier told him there had been “a My Lai a month.”
We know that Americans committed a massacre 50 years ago today; and we also know that an American stopped it. Hugh Thompson died in 2006, when he was only 62. I wish we could have done more to thank him.