50 years ago today the My Lai Massacre by US troops in Vietnam

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).


Everybody’s heard of the My Lai massacre — March 16, 1968, 50 years ago today — but not many know about the man who stopped it: Hugh Thompson, an Army helicopter pilot. When he arrived, American soldiers had already killed 504 Vietnamese civilians (that’s the Vietnamese count; the U.S. Army said 347). They were going to kill more, but they didn’t — because of what Thompson did. I met Thompson in 2000 and interviewed him for my radio program on KPFK in Los Angeles. He told the story of what happened that day, when he and his two-man crew flew over My Lai, in support of troops who were looking for Viet Cong fighters. “We started noticing these large numbers of bodies everywhere,” he told me, “people on the road dead, wounded. And just sitting there saying, ‘God, how’d this happen? What’s going on?’ And we started thinking what might have happened, but you didn’t want to accept that thought — because if you accepted it, that means your own fellow Americans, people you were there to protect, were doing something very evil.” 


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.”


US soldier burning down the village of My Lai in March 16 1968 killing up to 504 elderly men, women and children.

“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.


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