Saturday, January 07, 2006

Mỹ Lai massacre hero dies at 62

From the BBC:

Hugh Thompson Jnr, a former US military helicopter pilot who helped stop one of the most infamous massacres of the Vietnam War has died, aged 62.

Mr Thompson and his crew came upon US troops killing civilians at the village of My Lai on 16 March 1968.

He put his helicopter down between the soldiers and villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow Americans if they attacked the civilians.

"There was no way I could turn my back on them," he later said of the victims.

Mr Thompson, a warrant officer at the time, called in support from other US helicopters, and together they airlifted at least nine Vietnamese civilians - including a wounded boy - to safety.

He returned to headquarters, angrily telling his commanders what he had seen. They ordered soldiers in the area to stop shooting.

But Mr Thompson was shunned for years by fellow soldiers, received death threats, and was once told by a congressman that he was the only American who should be punished over My Lai.

He was brave man both physically and morally. Physically? Well, it goes without saying: he was a helicopter pilot in Việt Nam. According to Wikipedia, his job was "to fly over Vietnamese forests and try to draw enemy fire, to pinpoint the location of troops.".

Physical courage is common in armies. But moral courage always seems to be rarer - at least in the U.S. Army circa 1970. As it says, Thompson was treated like shit by his peers. Was it because he blew the whistle on the affair? Was it because it was bad for your career? Did certain higher-ups not even see dead "gooks" as something to get worked about? Or was it just too embarrassing? (Colin Powell tried to whitewash the affair, if you didn't know already). The Wikipedia article continues:

Kept in the dangerous OH-23 Raven Helicopter missions, which some considered punishment for his intervention and the subsequent media coverage, Thompson was shot down a total of five times, breaking his backbone on the last attack. He suffered psychological scars from his service in Vietnam through out the rest of his life.

I don't like to eulogize people; that's not my style. But this man was a true hero. Rest in peace.

Link found courtesy of Steve Gilliard.