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My Lai Massacre

Lyndon B Johnson

My Lai Massacre: Lyndon B Johnson was the 36th American President who served in office from November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969. One of the important events during his presidency was the My Lai Massacre.

Definition and Summary of the My Lai Massacre
Summary and definition:
The My Lai Massacre happened in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War on March 16, 1968. The My Lai Massacre saw the mass killing of unarmed South Vietnamese people most of whom were old men, women and children.

The My Lai Massacre was perpetrated by an American platoon, Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley. Efforts were made to cover up the atrocity and subsequent investigations were labeled a whitewash. The My Lai Massacre led to the court martial of Calley in September 1969 who was charged with 109 murders and sentenced to life in jail. He was released three years later after intervention by President Richard Nixon. News of the My Lai massacre broke in America in November 1969 to the horror of the nation.

When was the My Lai Massacre? The My Lai Massacre took place on March 16, 1968 in the district of Son My, a heavily mined, tunneled area of Viet Cong entrenchment.

How many died at the My Lai Massacre? The numbers of South Vietnamese who died at the My Lai Massacre are unconfirmed, but it believed that up to 500 unarmed civilians were killed.

Why was the My Lai Massacre important? It was a turning point in the public perception of the Vietnam War.

Who was involved in the My Lai Massacre? The soldiers of Charlie Company, a unit of the Americal Division's 11th Infantry Brigade and the villagers of My Lai.

Why did the My Lai Massacre happen?
The My Lai massacre took place shortly after the Tet Offensive, a fierce, surprise attack by Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong guerilla forces leading to a severe setback for the Americans. US troops in Vietnam were becoming angry, disillusioned and frustrated. A military commission who later investigated the My Lai massacre, found widespread failures of discipline, leadership and morale amongst the US Army's soldiers.

Unsuitable and inexperienced men, lacking in leadership skills were appointed as leaders due to the inequities in the draft policy. Large numbers of US troops in Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the My Lai area during the preceding weeks and were eager to retaliate. Viet Cong troops were believed to be hiding in the village and US troops, including soldiers of Charlie Company, were sent on a 'search and destroy' mission to My Lai village. There was no sign of the Viet Cong and the 'search and destroy' mission by Charlie Company degenerated into the massacre of the South Vietnamese villagers.

Facts about My Lai Massacre
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on My Lai Massacre.

History: The Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 April 30, 1975) was fought between the Communist government of North Vietnam and Viet Cong guerrillas, who were supported by the Chinese, and the armies of South Vietnam, who were supported by the United States.

After the troops of Charlie Company completed advanced training at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii they headed to the Quang Ngai province of south Vietnam on December 1, 1967.

Their first duties of Charlie Company consisted of setting up latrines, digging up bunkers and practicing patrol and search and destroy missions. Charlie Company consisted of around 110 men who were spread across three platoons under the command of Captain Ernest L. Medina. One of the platoon leaders was Lieutenant William Calley.

The Tet Offensive launched by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese army began on January 31, 1968 and Charlie Company was assigned to Task Force Barker whose mission was to destroy the Viet Cong 48th Force Battalion in Quang Ngai province. Quang Ngai was a Viet Cong stronghold and the site of the worst guerrilla tactics of the Vietnam war.

February 1968 was devastating for Charlie Company who suffered 28 casualties, including five dead. There were no direct confrontations with the Viet Cong. The casualties occured on patrols and were a result of sniper attacks, lethal booby traps, camouflaged pits and trip wires that were attached to grenades or mines.

The sweat-drenched troops were sent on patrols in the jungle, knowing that a stepping a foot in the wrong place would lead to terrible injuries. The inexperienced, traumatized men were angry, scared and frustrated and wanted the chance to retaliate.

In March 1968, Charlie Company, along with two other companies, received orders to enter a number of villages in the Quang Ngai province where recent Viet Cong activity had been reported. Army intelligence had indicated that local villages in the area were supplying and providing safety to Viet Cong guerrillas.

Company commanders were ordered to engage with enemy and there were also orders to destroy crops, livestock, wells and food stores being used to supply the Viet Cong.

On March 16, 1968 about 80 soldiers from Charlie Company were flown to My Lai village complex by helicopter. The My Lai village was home to about 700 residents consisting of South Vietnamese families who lived thatch-covered huts or a few in red brick houses.

The men from the platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley began firing at buildings that they believed might be sheltering Viet Cong. There was no armed retaliation and no Viet Cong guerrillas were found.

Fleeing Vietnamese were shot or bayoneted. Hand grenades were thrown into the houses and crops and livestock were destroyed. There was a frenzy of indiscriminate killing and the mission degenerated into the carnage that would become known as the My Lai massacre.

Some of the US soldiers opted out of the killing spree and refused to fire on a group of civilians but many more joined in the scenes of carnage and mutilation. The death toll totaled about 500.

Only one American was injured during the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968 - a soldier who had shot himself in the foot whilst clearing his pistol.

Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson with gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta landed their helicopter between American troops rampaging through My Lai village and the local people.

Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta landed their helicopter between American troops rampaging through the village and the terrified people. They were later honored "for heroism above and beyond the call of duty while saving the lives of at least 10 Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of non-combatants by American forces at My Lai".

Efforts were made to cover up the atrocity, officials initially claimed that less than 30 people had been killed at the village. However rumors about the truth of the massacre soon began to spread which made the cover up impossible to contain.

A 22-year-old 11th Brigade helicopter gunner serving in Quang Ngai Province named Ronald Ridenhour heard rumors of the massacre. Ronald Ridenhour left Vietnam and became an investigative journalist.

The My Lai massacre was covered up for a year until Ronald Ridenhour, wrote letters to 30 congressional and military officials a year later detailing the events at My Lai.

General William Westmoreland, who was in overall command of the Vietnamese operation, received one of the letters. General Westmoreland, not believing his troops would have engaged in mass murder, and ordered an immediate inquiry.

As the inquiry gathered evidence it became a criminal investigation and Lieutenant William Calley was called back to the US as a potential suspect. In September 1969, Calley was charged with 109 murders.

Following a report by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh the news of the My Lai massacre broke in America on November 12, 1969, to the horror of the nation. The newspaper coverage prompted widespread condemnation and reduced public support for the Vietnam War in the United States.

General William R. Peers was ordered by General Westmoreland to make further investigations into the My Lai Massacre. The investigation became known as the Peers inquiry.

The Peers inquiry took place behind closed doors in the basement of the Pentagon from December 1969 to March 1970.

More than 400 witnesses were questioned under oath during the Peers inquiry which ended on March 14, 1970, nearly two years after the My Lai Massacre.

The Peers inquiry report concluded that troops of Task Force Barker had massacred a large number of south Vietnamese and that knowledge of the event had been deliberately concealed.

The Peers inquiry recommended that charges should be brought against 28 officers and 2 non-commissioned officers involved in the concealment of the massacre.

The Peers inquiry ended with a whitewash of the whole incident. Only one man was brought to court regarding the cover-up, and he was acquitted. Another investigation by the army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) said there was evidence to charge 30 soldiers with major crimes but charges against them were were dismissed.

At the end of the investigations only Lieutenant William Calley was convicted. Calley was sentenced to life in jail but the majority of Americans believed that Calley was simply following orders, and condemned the fact that one soldier was serving as the army's scapegoat. William Calley was released three years after his conviction due  to the intervention and pardon of President Richard Nixon.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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