According historical accounts, the mass murder was carried out by a unit of the U.S. Army on March 16, 1968, killing 350-500 civilians – mostly women, children, and elderly villagers. It has also been reported that the platoon was informed that these villagers were members and supporters of the VC.
Kieu, a young woman who has been working at the museum since 2001, was our guide. Her mother was one of the survivors of My Lai; she made it out alive by hiding underground while the soldiers burned down the village. Unfortunately, many other members of Kieu’s family were not so fortunate. Kieu takes a great deal of ownership of the museum and referred to it as “my museum.” Despite the number of years that she has been a guide, she displayed genuine emotion while talking about the massacre. Nevertheless, she did not sound bitter or angry during her discourse – but rather she was grateful that her mother survived the attack and was intent on telling her story.
A good portion of her presentation included talking about the U.S. military men who aided the villagers and confronted those who were in charge of the actions in My Lai. She was very grateful to these servicemen for helping her people. These men include: Hugh Thompson, helicopter pilot; Lawrence Colburn, helicopter gunner; and crew chief Glenn Andreotta.
Again, according to some accounts, Colburn and Andreotta provided cover for Thompson as he went forward to confront the leader of the U.S. forces. Thompson also evacuated civilians and then landed his helicopter again to pick up a wounded child and transport him to a hospital. A helicopter gunner, Ronald Ridenhour gathered eyewitness accounts from other soldiers and wrote about the event, leading to an official probe. Subsequently, 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.
We walked through the village, looking at replicas of homes that once stood in these fields, as well as remnants of homes that were burned down. Our tour ended at a ditch where dozens of villagers where lined up and shot by U.S. service men. It was a bit intense to stand there and imagine what transpired that day. I trully wanted to understand what happened here – to get a sense of how “regular” young men from the United States could do such a thing. I could not begin to understand what these soldiers lived through during the war – struggling to survive, fighting, and watching their friends die. Nevertheless, the inhumanity seems unreal. Of course it helps to think that people tried to stop the massacre and succeed in saving a number of lives.
After the tour the group gathered to have a discussion led by Professor Fred Bergerson.
Dr. Albert C. Labriola was one of professor Fred Bergerson’s closest friends in infantry school, intelligence school, and in their service together. Labriola was the Commanding Officer of the 11th Infantry Brigade’s Military intelligence detachment during the Vietnam War. And, it was members of the 11th Infantry Brigade who committed the My Lai massacre. Prof. Bergerson spoke about his distinctive perspective, informed by conversations with Labriola, on the causes and conditions of My Lai.