The first time I heard about My Lai was in the spring of 1969, a year after the Tet Offensive which was the turning point of public support for the Vietnam War. I was working a patronage job for the US House of Representatives, and a friend of mine was an aide for one of 30 Congressman whose offices had been informed of the massacre by Ron Ridenhour, a helicopter gunner who had gathered first-hand information on the incident and sent letters to Congressional leaders. It was my friend who first told me about the incident.
We thought this was unbelievable. Americans didn’t do this sort of thing.
However, by this time I was totally disillusioned by the war. A coworker I had known, a tall good-looking boy named Charlie, had told me he was volunteering to serve in the Vietnam War, and I told him he was committing an act of suicide. Sure enough, we learned that a week after he had arrived in Vietnam he was dead. This had a great impact on me.
After an Army cover-up of the incident, it took a couple more years for the My Lai Massacre to be publicly aired by the Army; but as it finally had a chance to play out, the investigation and trials did nothing to change my mind about the immorality and senselessness of the war. They strengthened it. Predictably, we learned that Captain Ernest Medina was acquitted in a court martial and, after the dust of the trial had settled, Lieutenant William Calley, a principal player convicted in the atrocity, was released by President Nixon and never held to account for the part he’d played.
How typical. Zero accountability for soldiers, bankers and prosecutors.
Official Army photographer Ron Haeberle traveled with Charlie Company into My Lai on March 16, 1968. The Company was told that dozens of Viet Cong troops were passing through the area, retreating from battle after the Tet Offensive. Captain Ernest Medina had told his men that all Vietnamese remaining in My Lai after their arrival would be Viet Cong members or sympathizers.
Following the massacre, during which between 347 and 504 civilians were killed, the story remained largely out of the public eye until the media published Haeberle’s photographs in November 1969. These photographs would became key evidence in the Army’s five-month investigation led by General William R. Peers.
The following photos showcase a selection of Ron Haeberle’s images from the My Lai Massacre as they were used in the Peers investigation.
Even though this shameful event has been swept under the carpet by our government, it must never be forgotten.
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