John Hinrichs

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Charlie Company's lst Platoon commanded by Lieutenant William I. Calley was expecting trouble on March 16, 1968 when they were landed in the "Pinkville" area, located within Quang Ngai province in South Vietnam. They had been conducting "search and destroy" missions within the province without finding the Vietcong. However, the Vietcong were finding the men of Charlie Company with sniper fire, mines and "booby traps". Most of Quang Ngai province was controlled by the Vietcong, and had been for some time, so Charlie Company was nervous and agitated as they hit the ground running. 

Charlie Company was a unit of the 1" Battalion, 20th lnfantry. Lieutenant Calley was described by the authors as below average. The balance of Charlie Company was very average, consisting mostly of uneducated men from America's lower middle class and poor. The men exited the helicopters with two things predominately on their minds, (1) take and follow orders from officers and non-commissioned officers and (2) most South Vietnamese civilians supported the Communists. Also, they had witnessed the American military destructive intent through its "free fire zones" encompassing a large portion of the province, and its frequent use of the "search and destroy" missions. The 1" Platoon was in one of the lead helicopters. It was their responsibility to clear the landing zone. By 7,40 A.M. they were on the ground about 150 meters from My Lai 4. The 1st Platoon landed with guns blazing. They didn't receive return fire. The other platoons of Charlie Company were on the ground. 

The 1st Platoon started moving through My Lai 4. They did not find enemy soldiers. There were plenty of civilians; men, women, and children. The edgy soldiers fired at an),thing that moved, whether people or animals, hurling grenades into huts, burning everything, and basically rampaging along without forming up or using rules of engagement. 

The map in the book shows at 0845 hours, 20-50 villagers were shot right outside the vegetation on the right flank of the 1st Squad fire team; this right contingent of soldiers had broken into two parts, and the other contingent roughly stayed together and moved down the left flank directly through the vegetation; the two groups from the 1st Squad fire ream on the right flank converged at any irrigation ditch past the vegetation; at 0845-0900 hours, 60-70 villagers were brought to the ditch by the lst Squad fire team; at 0900-0915 hours, about 10 villagers were brought to the ditch by the lst Squad fire team; and at 0900. 0915 hours the 1st Platoon established a defensive perimeter in front of and extending almost from the left flank to the right flank. 

When Calley was told by Captain Medina, the company commander, to move faster through the village, he ordered his men to kill unarmed civilians. Before this, some civilians, including an old man and a women exiting a hut holding a small baby, had been "wasted" (this is the word Calley said Medina used in his order to him). But, for the most part, the 1st Platoon soldiers were rounding up the civilians into specific areas. Calley and Paul Meadlo opened up, causing mass executions. Meadlo fired for a while, and then crying, handed his weapon to Dennis Conti. Conti refused earlier to fire upon the civilians and refused again, saying Calley seemed to enjoy killing, and only children were left. 

When the bloodbath concluded about noon, between four and five hundred Vietnamese civilians have been killed in My Lai 4. Pilot Hugh Thompson, Jr. flying reconnaissance saw what was happening and landed his chopper. He tried to stop the killings and assist some of the villagers. He returned to base, and reported what he saw to his chaplain, and then to Colonel Oran K. Henderson, commander of the 11'h Infantry Brigade. 

Calley was not highly regarded by his men, for he could not even read a map. Calley was at best mediocre, and probably, sub par. He had flunked out of junior college. He came to command because the U. S. Army desperately needed second lieutenants by 1967. Calley never questioned Captain Medina about killing civilians. The testimony given in response to his lawyer's questions does not help much when assessing his culpability. He didn't report the killings. Calley was responsible for the actions of the 1st Platoon. Since the 1st Platoon went into hamlet of My Lai, it was Calley's duty to control everything his squads did during the engagement from the time they left the loading zone. It did surprise me that he was later supported by jimmy Carter, a man known for high moral fiber. Medina, on the contrary, had a good reputation for taking care of his men. 

In the court martial proceedings, Calley was vague about his training with regard to the Geneva Conventions on the Laws of War. Not surprisingly, he could not recall the content. The men of the 1st Platoon received one hour of training on the rules of warfare during basic training. They were given a wallet,sized card containing information. In actuality, they could not remember much. The Peers Commission, conducting the inquiry of the My Lai incident for the Army, concluded that only marginal training was received. 

Captain Medina gave testimony to the U. S. Army CID. Medina denied ordering the killing of inhabitants in his briefing on the night before the massacre. The extensive questioning of company members gave the reviewers a mixed result. The consensus among the company was that the engagement tomorrow was going to be bloody. Captain Medina was not convicted at his court martial proceedings. 

Calley testified that Medina ordered him to speed things up. Calley said Medina ordered to waste the civilians. The testimony of Calley is viewed by this reader as suspect. The man, arguably a sadist, was fighting for his freedom. Medina does admit gunning a woman who was on the ground. Medina says he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He thought she was going for a grenade. So, Medina was on the ground, but he was not present when Calley repeatedly fired upon the groups of civilians clustered together by the ditch. Herbert L. Carter, a "tunnel rat" in the 1st Platoon testified that Medina said during the assault to kill everyone and leave no one standing. 

The Peers Commission elicited testimony from members of the 1st Platoon about so-called "mercy killings". Civilians were put out of their misery. These poor unfortunates were lying in a ditch, horribly wounded. There was not any medical care on the ground. The soldiers, at a minimum, were in a quandary as to Captain Medina's pre-attack briefing. The 1" Platoon had been ordered by Calley to kill the civilians. The mercy killing would be, in my mind, under the civilian criminal law, a form of justifiable homicide. 

Many rapes occurred, and the females, some of whom were children, were wantonly slaughtered after the rapes. By this time, many soldiers in Vietnam were using marijuana, heroin, and other illegal drugs. They went on rest and recreation after being on duly for 4 six months. The soldiers called this time "i and i" for intoxication and intercourse. Some members of the 1st Platoon were running a muck. Their reasoning abilities were probably low to begin with, and now their lieutenant had said kill everybody and every living creature. The females were going to be killed so this reader believes it was another brutal example of warped thought processes. The authors ask the question as to how these rapes could be considered self-defense. There was not testimony to this effect. 

There was a definite cover-up. This is why Major General Samuel Koster was reduced to a Brigadier General. The primary document for me was the Combat Action Report dated twelve days after My Lai by Frank A. Barker Jr. His report does not say anything about the slaughter of civilians. Lieutenant Colonel Barker reports to Colonel Henderson. Thompson was the only one to report what happened to the superior officers in the chain of command. He told Colonel Henderson, but Barker still issued this deficient report. Henderson was acquitted. 

The incident lay dormant until the letter dated March 29, 1969 by Ronald Ridenhour to military and political leaders. This was received more than twelve months after My Lai. It set off a maelstrom, especially after the media took over with articles and pictures taken at the scene. General Wilham C. Westmoreland in his memoirs says when he received the Ridenhour letter;  it was beyond belief that something like this could happen in the Americal Division 11th lnfantry Brigade. My understanding of Westmoreland is that he was a "hands-on" type of commander. He had abundant staff officers at his command. The cover-up was pervasive throughout Americal Division for him to be left in the dark. The Tet offensive had already occurred so things were unsettled. 

It surprised me that only one person was convicted. Granted, and General Westmoreland explained this in his cited memoirs, the proceedings were handled within the military system, with a six, member panel of officers determining guilt or innocence. One could say the officers closed ranks around their fellow officers. The enlisted men were let off the hook. Paul Meadlo received a hero's welcome in his hometown. Lieutenant Calley's sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor was whittled down until he was paroled after serving a few years of a ten year sentence. President Nixon got involved. Lieutenant General Peers called it a tragedy. Here is the eminent general who was involved from the moment the commission began its review. 

Colonel William Wilson of the inspector general's office was given the assignment. He immediately accompanied by his court reporter starting questioning people beginning with Ron Ridenhour. He recorded sworn testimony for members of the 1" Platoon. Later, testimony was taken from Vietnamese eye,witnesses. All of this eye,witness testimony is not hearsay, so it is the best evidence the tribunal can receive. 

Some soldiers refused to kill civilians. There was not a mutiny against Calley's order to kill everybody. Maybe the men were afraid he would turn his weapon upon them. Pilot Thompson was afraid of the 1" Platoon. Some of the men may have been in shock. 

The cover-up is difficult for me to understand. The antiwar protesters were going strong by March 1968. The war of attrition was not working. The Tet offensive showed this. The men in authority from President Nixon on down seemed to sweep it under the rug. Lieutenant Calley was convicted on the strength of his atrocities. He just went berserk. One could say Calley was the scapegoat. He was the only officer convicted.  

Captain Medina came out of it really unscathed, when the collective evidence is reviewed. Medina was there the whole time. He was in charge of Calley. He shot a civilian woman himself. Apparently, many members of Charlie Company construed his briefing to be an order to kill everyone in the assault to come the next day. There is testimony he said kill everyone during the sweep of My Lai. 

This was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The average soldier didn't understand all this. He was probably asleep during the one day of training. His fellow soldiers had been killed in horrible ways by an invisible enemy. Some were captured and tortured to death. By 1968 the war was not understood by scholars, much less the man in uniform. My Lai is an unfortunate incident. Calley was an inferior officer. It was a shame he got through officer candidate school. My Lai is another superb example of the conclusion of most people - war is hell. How do we keep a My Lai occurrence from happening again? This writer believes the base nature of some humans make such a goal unattainable. We must still try.

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