william calley

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March 16th 1968: My Lai Massacre

On this day in 1968, during the Vietnam War, between 350 and 500 Vietnamese villagers were massacred by American troops. The soldiers of the ‘Charlie’ Company killed and mutilated hundreds of unarmed civilians, many of whom were women and children. The massacre took place in the hamlets of My Lai and My Khe of Son My village, and was supposedly due to the belief that enemy soldiers were hiding in the area. The incident was initially downplayed by the army, with General Westmoreland congratulating the unit on their “outstanding job”. However, once the true nature of the horrific masacre was revealed, it sparked outrage both in the United States and around the world. The brutality of My Lai was a major factor in increasing domestic opposition to the Vietnam War, with mounting protests putting pressure on the government to end what many saw as a futile war. 26 US soldiers were charged for their involvement in the incident, but only one - William Calley - was convicted and found guilty. Calley was given a life sentence for killing 22 villagers, but only served 3 and a half years under house arrest; he made his first public apology in August 2009.

Your History Professor Didn’t Teach You About: The My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre is the name used to describe the mass killing of approximately 347-504 innocent Vietnamese civilians in the Son My village (South Vietnam) on March 16, 1968. The killings were orchestrated by a large number of US Army soldiers in the first battalion and is known for being horrifically gruesome with no-holds-barred; men, women, children, and even infants were slaughtered, with most women being gang raped and mutilated before their suffering was put to a final end. Despite the full first battalion having involvement, only Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted of criminal offenses. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but only served three-and-a-half years–under house arrest.

Why This Happened

The My Lai Massacre took place during the Tet Offensive, or one of the largest military campaigns during the Vietnam War. The US assumed that the National Liberation Front/Viet Cong’s battalion took refuge in the poor village of Son My, which was riddled in rice paddies and dirt roads. Upon their arrival, the Charlie Company Military Unit (US soldiers) were greeted not by the Viet Cong, but by the innocent, poor farmers of Son My. Captain Ernest Medina spread the idea to the US soldiers that the villagers, in fact, were Viet Cong sympathizers and that the Viet Cong were still hiding around the village. He encouraged the soldiers to burn Son My to the ground, to pollute its waters, and to kill its people.

Specific Accounts

-  A group of women were crying ‘No VC’ (No Viet Cong) to convince the soldiers that they were innocent and to end the violence.

- One soldier pushed a villager into a well and threw in a grenade with them.

- 15-20 women and children were kneeling around a temple. They were burning incense, crying, and praying. They were all murdered by single gunshot wounds to their heads.

-70-80 villagers were led to an irrigation ditch, pushed in, and killed as ordered by William Calley.

-PFC Paul Meadlo, who testified in the My Lai Massacre court case, testified that he shot at women who were holding babies. He stated that he was convinced they were booby-trapped.

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On This Date In 1968 - My Lai- Another War, Another Massacre

The image of a dead child flashed upon the screen.  In an instant, it clicked off and was replaced by another grisly picture- this one of a young woman lying broken and covered with blood in the mud of her village.  As the pictorial inventory of the dead continued, congressmen sitting in the committee room on Capital Hill watched in stunned silence.

Newsweek December 8, 1969