“Nowadays, You Have To Think Like a Hero Just To Behave Like a Merely Decent Human Being”


“If there is to be hope, we must all ‘betray’ our country; we have to save each other, because all victims are equal and none is more equal than others. It is everyone’s duty to start the avalanche. Listen, nowadays, you have to think like a hero just to behave like a merely decent human being”
(the character Barley Scott Blair in John Le Carre’s “The Russia House” screenplay)

Hugh Thompson, Hero at My Lai, Dead at 62

[ Editor’s Note: This past week, former Army Helicopter Pilot Hugh 0aThompson died at the age of 62. Thompson’s heroic decision to 0aintervene during the course of the US massacre at My Lai made him an 0aimportant figure in American history.
Below are two articles: The 0asecond is a straight news account of Thompson’s death. The first is a US News report from August of 2001 that provides a more detailed and 0acompelling account of Thompson’s actions at My Lai on March 16, 1968, and his struggle to find justice in the months and years that followed.
— ma/TO Hugh Thompson Reviled, Then Honored, for His Role at My Lai By Nell Boyce The Associated Press 20 August 2001 Skimming over the Vietnamese village of My Lai in a helicopter with a bubble-shaped windshield, 24-year-old Hugh Thompson had a superb view of the ground below. But what the Army pilot saw didn’t make any sense: piles of Vietnamese bodies and dead water buffalo. He and his two younger crew mates, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, were flying low over the hamlet on March 16, 1968, trying to draw fire so that two gunships flying above could locate and destroy the enemy. On this morning, no one was shooting at them. And yet they saw bodies everywhere, and the wounded civilians they had earlier marked for medical aid were now all dead.

As the helicopter hovered a few feet over a paddy field, the team watched a group of Americans approach a wounded young woman lying on the ground. A captain nudged her with his foot, then shot her. The men in the helicopter recoiled in horror, shouting, “You son of a bitch!”
Thompson couldn’t believe it. His suspicions and fear began to grow as they flew over the eastern side of the village and saw dozens of bodies piled in an irrigation ditch. Soldiers were standing nearby, taking a cigarette break. Thompson racked his brains for an explanation. Maybe the civilians had fled to the ditch for cover? Maybe they’d been accidentally killed and the soldiers had made a mass grave? The Army warrant officer just couldn’t wrap his mind around the truth of My Lai.
Before My Lai, Americans always saw their boys in uniform as heroes. Their troops had brought war criminals, the Nazis, to justice. So when the massacre of some 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers became public a year and a half later, it shook the country to its core. Many Americans found it so unbelievable they perversely hailed Lt. William Calley, the officer who ordered his men to shoot civilians, as an unjustly accused hero. But My Lai did produce true heroes, says William Eckhardt, who served as chief prosecutor for the My Lai courts-martial. “When you have evil, sometimes, in the midst of it, you will have incredible, selfless good. And that’s Hugh Thompson.”
On that historic morning, Thompson set his helicopter down near the irrigation ditch full of bodies. He asked a sergeant if the soldiers could help the civilians, some of whom were still moving. The sergeant suggested putting them out of their misery. Stunned, Thompson turned to Lieutenant Calley, who told him to mind his own business. Thompson reluctantly got back in his helicopter and began to lift off. Just then Andreotta yelled, “My God, they’re firing into the ditch!”
Thompson finally faced the truth. He and his crew flew around for a few minutes, outraged, wondering what to do. Then they saw several elderly adults and children running for a shelter, chased by Americans. “We thought they had about 30 seconds before they’d die,” recalls Colburn. Thompson landed his chopper between the troops and the shelter, then jumped out and confronted the lieutenant in charge of the chase. He asked for assistance in escorting the civilians out of the bunker; the lieutenant said he’d get them out with a hand grenade. Furious, Thompson announced he was taking the civilians out. He went back to Colburn and Andreotta and told them if the Americans fired, to shoot them. “Glenn and I were staring at each other, dumbfounded,” says Colburn. He says he never pointed his gun at an American soldier, but he might have fired if they had first. The ground soldiers waited and watched.
Thompson coaxed the Vietnamese out of the shelter with hand gestures. They followed, wary. Thompson looked at his three-man helicopter and realized he had nowhere to put them. “There was no thinking about it,” he says now. “It was just something that had to be done, and it had to be done fast.” He got on the radio and begged the gunships to land and fly the four adults and five children to safety, which they did within minutes.
Before returning to base, the helicopter crew saw something moving in the irrigation ditch – a child, about 4 years old. Andreotta waded through bloody cadavers to pull him out. Thompson, who had a son, was overcome by emotion. He immediately flew the child to a nearby hospital.
Thompson wasted no time telling his superiors what had happened. “They said I was screaming quite loud. I was mad. I threatened never to fly again,” Thompson remembers. “I didn’t want to be a part of that. It wasn’t war.” An investigation followed, but it was cursory at best.
A month later, Andreotta died in combat. Thompson was shot down and returned home to teach helicopter piloting. Colburn served his tour of duty and left the military. The two figured those involved in the killing had been court-martialed. In fact, nothing had happened. But rumors of the massacre persisted. One soldier who heard of the atrocities, Ron Ridenhour, vowed to make them public. In the spring of 1969, he sent letters to government officials, which led to a real investigation and sickening revelations: murdered babies and old men, raped and mutilated women, in a village where U.S. soldiers mistakenly expected to find lots of Viet Cong.
Not all soldiers at My Lai participated in the carnage. Some men risked courtmartial or even death by defying Calley’s direct orders to shoot civilians. Eckhardt doesn’t think these men were heroes, because they didn’t try to stop the murderers. But Colburn thinks they did the best they could. “We could just fly away at the end of the day,” he notes. The ground troops had to live together for months.
The Pentagon’s investigation eventually suggested that nearly 80 soldiers had participated in the killing and coverup, although only Calley (who now works at a jewelry store in Columbus, Ga.) was convicted. The eyewitness testimony of Thompson and Colburn proved crucial. But instead of thanking them, America vilified them. Many saw Calley as a scapegoat for regrettable but inevitable civilian casualties. “Rallies for Calley” were held all over the country. Jimmy Carter, then governor of Georgia, urged citizens to leave car headlights on to show support for Calley. Thompson, who got nasty letters and death threats, remembers thinking: “Has everyone gone mad?” He feared a court-martial for his command to fire, if necessary, on U.S. soldiers.
Gradually the furor died down. Colburn and Thompson lived in relative anonymity until a 1989 television documentary on My Lai reclaimed them as forgotten heroes. David Egan, a Clemson University professor who had served in a French village where Nazis killed scores of innocents in World War II, was amazed by the story. He campaigned to have Thompson and his team awarded the coveted Soldier’s Medal. It wasn’t until March 6, 1998, after internal debate among Pentagon officials (who feared an award would reopen old wounds) and outside pressure from reporters, that Thompson and Colburn finally received medals in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But both say a far more gratifying reward was a trip back to My Lai this March to dedicate a school and a “peace park.” It was then they finally met a young man named Do Hoa, who they believe was the boy they rescued from that death-filled ditch. “Being reunited with the boy was just…I can’t even describe it,” says Colburn. And Thompson, also overwhelmed, doesn’t even try.

——————————————————————————–
My Lai Hero, Hugh Thompson Jr., Dies at 62
The Associated Press
Friday 06 January 2006
New Orleans
Hugh Thompson Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot honored for rescuing Vietnamese civilians from his fellow GIs during the My Lai massacre, died early Friday. He was 62.
Thompson, whose role in the 1968 massacre did not become widely known until decades later, died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Alexandria, hospital spokesman Jay DeWorth said.
Trent Angers, Thompson’s biographer and family friend, said Thompson died of cancer.
“These people were looking at me for help and there was no way I could turn my back on them,” Thompson recalled in a 1998 Associated Press interview.
Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai.
They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings.
Colburn and Andreotta had provided cover for Thompson as he went forward to confront the leader of the U.S. forces. Thompson later coaxed civilians out of a bunker so they could be evacuated, and then landed his helicopter again to pick up a wounded child they transported to a hospital. Their efforts led to the cease-fire order at My Lai.
In 1998, the Army honored the three men with the prestigious Soldier’s Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy. It was a posthumous award for Andreotta, who had been killed in battle three weeks after My Lai.
“It was the ability to do the right thing even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did,” Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ackerman said at the 1998 ceremony. The three “set the standard for all soldiers to follow.”
Lt. William L. Calley, a platoon leader, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the killings, but served just three years under house arrest when then-President Nixon reduced his sentence.
Author Seymour Hersh won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for his expose of the massacre in 1969 while working as a freelance journalist. The massacre became one of the pivotal events as opposition to the war was growing in the United States.
Hersh called Thompson “one of the good guys.”
“You can’t imagine what courage it took to do what he did,” Hersh said.
Although Thompson’s story was a significant part of Hersh’s reports, and Thompson testified before Congress, his role in ending My Lai wasn’t widely known until the late 1980s, when David Egan, a professor emeritus at Clemson University, saw an interview in a documentary and launched a letter-writing campaign that eventually led to the awarding of the medals in 1998.
“He was the guy who by his heroic actions gave a morality and dignity to the American military effort,” Tulane history professor Douglas Brinkley said.
For years Thompson suffered snubs and worse from those who considered him unpatriotic. He recalled a congressman angrily saying that Thompson himself was the only serviceman who should be punished because of My Lai.
As the years passed, Thompson became an example for future generations of soldiers, said Col. Tom Kolditz, head of the U.S. Military Academy’s behavioral sciences and leadership department. Thompson went to West Point once a year to give a lecture on his experience, Kolditz said.
“There are so many people today walking around alive because of him, not only in Vietnam, but people who kept their units under control under other circumstances because they had heard his story. We may never know just how many lives he saved.”
Advertisements

About jimcraven10

About jimcraven10 1. Citizenship: Blackfoot, U.S. and Canadian; 2. Position: tenured Professor of Economics and Geography; Dept. Head, Economics; 3. Teaching, Consulting and Research experience: approx 40 + years all levels high school to post-doctoral U.S. Canada, Europe, China, India, Puerto Rico and parts of E. Asia; 4. Work past and present: U.S. Army 1963-66; Member: Veterans for Peace; former VVAW; Veterans for 9-11 Truth; Scholars for 9-11 Truth; Pilots for 9-11 Truth; World Association for Political Economy; Editorial Board International Critical Thought; 4.. U.S. Commercial-Instrument Pilot ; FAA Licensed Ground Instructor (Basic, Advanced, Instrument and Simulators); 5. Research Areas and Publications: International law (on genocide, rights of nations, war and war crimes); Imperialism (nature, history, logic, trajectories, mechanisms and effects); Economic Geography (time and space modeling in political economy; globalization--logic and effects; Political Economy and Geography of Imperialism); Indigenous versus non-Indigenous Law; Political Economy of Socialism and Socialist Construction; 6. Member, Editorial Board, "International Critical Thought" published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; International Advisory Board and Columnist 4th Media Group, http://www.4thMedia.org (Beijing); 7. Other Websites publications at http://www.aradicalblackfoot.blogspot.com; wwwthesixthestate.blogspot.com;https://jimcraven10.wordpress.com; 8.Biography available in: Marquis Who’s Who: in the World (16th-18th; 20th; 22nd -31st (2014) Editions); Who’s Who in America (51st-61st;63rd-68th(2014) Editions); Who’s Who in the West (24th- 27th Editions);Who’s Who in Science and Engineering (3rd to 6th, 8th, 11th (2011-2012) Editions); Who’s Who in Finance and Industry (29th to 37th Editions); Who’s Who in American Education (6th Edition). ------------------- There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state, to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
This entry was posted in The Sixth Estate. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s