January 17, 2006 by

Hugh Thompson Jr.


Categories: Military

hthompson.jpgOn the morning of March 16, 1968, Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. was flying a reconnaissance mission over the south Vietnamese village of My Lai when he saw a horrific scene of carnage.
“We kept flying back and forth, reconning in front and in the rear, and it didn’t take very long until we started noticing the large number of bodies everywhere. Everywhere we’d look, we’d see bodies. These were infants, two-, three-, four-, five-year-olds, women, very old men, no draft-age people whatsoever. That’s what you look for, draft-age people,” Thompson once said.
Upon landing the OH-23 helicopter, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn, crew chief Glenn Andreotta and Thompson began picking through the bodies and placing green gas markers near the Vietnamese civilians who were wounded, but still alive. As they returned to the helicopter to call for additional aid, however, a U.S. soldier in Charlie Company, 11th Brigade began shooting the marked civilians. When Thompson found another GI preparing to blow up a hut filled with Vietnamese, he told Andreotta and Colburn to point their weapons at the Americans and shoot anyone who tried to kill the villagers. With his two-member crew providing cover, he went searching for the platoon’s leader and ordered a cease fire.
Thompson then radioed for two other helicopters to transport the injured Vietnamese to safety. He and his crew were flying away from My Lai when Andreotta spotted movement in an irrigation ditch filled with dead bodies. Once they landed the helicopter, Andreotta hopped out to search the mass grave for survivors. He returned a few minutes later carrying a wounded child.
Up to 500 people were killed in My Lai that day by approximately 80 American soldiers. Not every member of Charlie Company participated in the slaughter, neither did they do anything to stop it.
In 1969, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published an expose of the My Lai massacre and its subsequent cover-up. The series of articles, which included comments about the incident from Thompson, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970. It also helped change the public’s opinion of the Vietnam conflict and led to the conviction of the platoon’s leader, Lt. William L. Calley. Calley received a life sentence for his role in the killings, but served just three years of house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his punishment. He was the only soldier to be convicted in the massacre.
Thompson later testified before the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Army Inspector General and at every one of the My Lai massacre court-martials — and suffered retribution for doing so. Strangers phoned him with death threats and left mutilated animals at his home. Members of the armed services called him a traitor for turning on his own countrymen, and one congressman allegedly labeled him as “unpatriotic.” David Egan, a professor emeritus at Clemson University, felt otherwise and in the late 1980s launched a letter-writing campaign to encourage the government to honor Thompson’s heroism.
Still, it wasn’t until 1998 when the Army decided to award the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy, to Thompson, Colburn and Andreotta. Andreotta was honored posthumously; he was killed in a helicopter crash three weeks after My Lai. Thompson and Colburn returned to the village that same year to dedicate an elementary school. There they met some of the villagers they saved, including the 8-year-old boy pulled from the irrigation ditch. In 1999, the two veterans received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award.
Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1961 and in the U.S. Army in 1966. The Atlanta native was shot down five times during the Vietnam war, broke his backbone in the last attack and suffered from psychological scars for the rest of his life. Despite this, he continued to serve his country as a counselor for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thompson died on Jan. 6 of cancer at the age of 62. He was buried in Lafayette, La., with full military honors.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

10 Responses to Hugh Thompson Jr.

  1. Kym

    What an example he set for morals and ethics. He stood up against evil without considering the effects it would have on him. It’s a shame more people don’t a stand instead of standing on the side lines. Our country has lost a true patriot.

  2. Robert L. Noe

    In honor of one of America’s true hero’s. I, representing the Special Operations and Special Forces Association, attended his funeral in Laffayette, Louisiana and was ashamed of the lack turnout by the Armed Forces.

  3. stan Matlin

    At this time in our history, I think of Hugh Thompson and his crew and wish with all my heart, that the army today understands what is, and is not, their duty. I’m sure our leaders have lost their way. True hero’s never die.

  4. Alex Weaver

    Can anyone tell me where in Lafayette he’s buried? I’ll be driving through there in the next few days and if possible I’d like to stop and pay respects.

  5. sid

    Sometimes it does take a hero to remind us that everything is in Black and white and there is no right way to do a wrong thing.In his action Thompson showed that there is always the right to do the right thing.And It is Americas greatness that she appreciated her hero,belateadly or not.
    An Indian admirer.

  6. a crewchief

    Mr Hugh Thompsons actions, the courage the whole crew displayed that day march 16th, 1968 Make me proud to be an american. The way he was shunned and discredited by our fellow americans, and by a sic unpatriotic congressman Rivers makes me feel ashamed. We must always be aware not only of the evil within our enemies but also the potential of evil within ourselves. Thank you Mr. Hugh Thompson JR. May you rest in peace Thank you Lawernce Colburn, and Glenn Andreotta,

  7. charlene

    While doing a report for school I became aware of this mans brave and humane deeds and just wish that I had a chance to thank him for making a diffence to those he helped. I will always remember him as someone that will give me strength throughout the remainder of my life to always stand up for what is just and right regardless of consequenes. To his family know you are decendants of a god like man.

  8. Monte Jones

    I was a soldier in Vietnam for two years. I consider Thompson and his door gunners, Colburn and Andreotti, three of the greatest soldiers that ever served in the US Army. They set a standard of bravery that is worthy of the highest respect. I was deeply saddened when Thompson passed away. Specialist Anderotti was killed in action shortly after My Lai. He and Thompson are in God’s hands now. I hope the spirit of God will give Colburn peace. I will always remember these three men with respect and admiration. They are as good as they come. I hope our nation remembers all our soldiers from all wars, and especially those from Vietnam that did their jobs bravely. These three deserve a special place in our hearts. It was an honor to have served in the same Army with these three.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *