My Lai Hero Hugh Thompson Jr. Dies at 62


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Malone LaVeigh
January 13, 2006, 11:38 PM
I know this isn't breaking news, but it was mostly ignored by the press. I thought his passing shouldn't go unnoticed.

My Lai Hero Hugh Thompson Jr. Dies at 62

By JESSICA BUJOL
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Hugh Thompson Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot honored for rescuing Vietnamese civilians from his fellow GIs during the My Lai massacre, died early Friday. He was 62.

Thompson, whose role in the 1968 massacre did not become widely known until decades later, died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Alexandria, hospital spokesman Jay DeWorth said.

Trent Angers, Thompson's biographer and family friend, said Thompson died of cancer.

"These people were looking at me for help and there was no way I could turn my back on them," Thompson recalled in a 1998 Associated Press interview.

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai.

They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings.

Colburn and Andreotta had provided cover for Thompson as he went forward to confront the leader of the U.S. forces. Thompson later coaxed civilians out of a bunker so they could be evacuated, and then landed his helicopter again to pick up a wounded child they transported to a hospital. Their efforts led to the cease-fire order at My Lai.

In 1998, the Army honored the three men with the prestigious Soldier's Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy. It was a posthumous award for Andreotta, who had been killed in battle three weeks after My Lai.

"It was the ability to do the right thing even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did," Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ackerman said at the 1998 ceremony. The three "set the standard for all soldiers to follow."

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.

Author Seymour Hersh won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for his expose of the massacre in 1969 while working as a freelance journalist. The massacre became one of the pivotal events as opposition to the war was growing in the United States.

Hersh called Thompson "one of the good guys."

"You can't imagine what courage it took to do what he did," Hersh said.

Although Thompson's story was a significant part of Hersh's reports, and Thompson testified before Congress, his role in ending My Lai wasn't widely known until the late 1980s, when David Egan, a professor emeritus at Clemson University, saw an interview in a documentary and launched a letter-writing campaign that eventually led to the awarding of the medals in 1998.

"He was the guy who by his heroic actions gave a morality and dignity to the American military effort," Tulane history professor Douglas Brinkley said.

For years Thompson suffered snubs and worse from those who considered him unpatriotic. He recalled a congressman angrily saying that Thompson himself was the only serviceman who should be punished because of My Lai.

As the years passed, Thompson became an example for future generations of soldiers, said Col. Tom Kolditz, head of the U.S. Military Academy's behavioral sciences and leadership department. Thompson went to West Point once a year to give a lecture on his experience, Kolditz said.

"There are so many people today walking around alive because of him, not only in Vietnam, but people who kept their units under control under other circumstances because they had heard his story. We may never know just how many lives he saved."

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gremlin_bros
January 13, 2006, 11:49 PM
i would have to agree with you on this one. we have lost a great American who had the courage to be true to a moral code even in war time. may his soul find peace and may his courage never be forgotten

Biker
January 13, 2006, 11:53 PM
How about a link? I'd like to post this elsewhere. Thanks.
Biker

telomerase
January 14, 2006, 12:35 AM
Thompson was a great human being... almost unique. There wasn't even one Hugh Thompson during the Operation Keelhaul massacre in WWII, a US/British operation that went on for months and killed over two million unarmed people.

SomeKid
January 14, 2006, 12:59 AM
Was there a reason for My Lai? Did the 'civilians' pull a Muslim, and kill some of our own? Did this man do a heroic act, or did he betray fellow troops?

And what was Operation Keelhaul that killed 2 million in WW2?

I have heard about My Lai a LOT, but always at a college setting. Quite frankly, I don't trust college professors to give me the straight story. I know most of us on this forum love our country, so whats the deal?

Biker
January 14, 2006, 01:12 AM
Was there a reason for My Lai? Did the 'civilians' pull a Muslim, and kill some of our own? Did this man do a heroic act, or did he betray fellow troops?



I have heard about My Lai a LOT, but always at a college setting. Quite frankly, I don't trust college professors to give me the straight story. I know most of us on this forum love our country, so whats the deal?
Some of ours lost it. Others kept it or got it back. In some ways, not one of our shining moments, in others, the moment was glaringly bright and shiny and something to build on.
Thompson was a good man.
That's all.
Biker

Johnny_Yuma
January 14, 2006, 01:52 AM
Was there a reason for My Lai? Did the 'civilians' pull a Muslim, and kill some of our own? Did this man do a heroic act, or did he betray fellow troops?

And what was Operation Keelhaul that killed 2 million in WW2?

I have heard about My Lai a LOT, but always at a college setting. Quite frankly, I don't trust college professors to give me the straight story. I know most of us on this forum love our country, so whats the deal?

from being massacred by American troops.

Some of our troops tried to take out an entire village of noncombatants. Other troops (Thompson and his crew) did what they could to stop them. In my opinion, that makes Thompson a hero. Many others disagree and resent Thompson stopping our troops from shooting women and children.

There is no honor in shooting unarmed civillians.

telomerase
January 14, 2006, 02:02 AM
And what was Operation Keelhaul that killed 2 million in WW2?

There's a good book on it by Tolstoi, or you could Google it. One of the greatest atrocities in history. Our tax dollars at work (but then, we did send foreign aid to Pol Pot, too...)

Waitone
January 14, 2006, 02:03 AM
My Lai demonstrated everything that was wrong with the US military in Vietnam. No justification what so ever. I talked to ossifers who were in the region about what happened. Bottom line assessment was Calley was unfit for command, his troops had been through hell, there wasn't sufficient command fortitude to see what was happening. Evidently all the signs of trouble were available for all to see long before the events. Horrifying incident. I just wish someone with a better rep than Seymore Hersch ran the story.

igor455
January 14, 2006, 02:07 AM
I am sad to read that hugh died. I met him at my childrens high school in 2002. We talked and found out we were in the same area of Vietnam at the same time . We also were both pilots. Hugh had me by 3 years , i wonder if his cancer had anythihg to do with Agent orange ?
The gift that keeps on giving. Any how i am truly sad to hear of his passing

joab
January 14, 2006, 02:18 AM
Did the 'civilians' pull a Muslim, and kill some of our ownSomebody killed some of our own. My Lai was the first village the unit happened on.
As one of the grunts put it
"You put a machine gun in a pissed off 18 year old's hands and somebody is gonna die" Or words to that effect.

Thompsom risked his life, career and reputation by rising above the blood lust and doing what we were supposed to be there doing in the first place.

Kodiaz
January 14, 2006, 07:53 AM
Well another hero gone. Thank you sir R.I.P. I hope we take better care of our sandbox vets than we did our 'nam vets.

JesseJames
January 14, 2006, 12:24 PM
I heard that the Mai Lai massacre was nothing exceptional. Those guys just got caught.
Atrocities were not that uncommon for ground combat units operating out in the boonies.
Thanks to him though, for remembering who he was and why he was there.

Malone LaVeigh
January 14, 2006, 01:31 PM
How about a link? I'd like to post this elsewhere. Thanks.
Biker
http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/breaking_news/13567220.htm

Malone LaVeigh
January 14, 2006, 01:37 PM
I just wish someone with a better rep than Seymore Hersch ran the story.
This is the main story that gave Hersch his rep. Unfortunately, in a lot of circles, uncovering the truth is considered bad.

Malone LaVeigh
January 14, 2006, 01:39 PM
I heard that the Mai Lai massacre was nothing exceptional. Those guys just got caught.
Atrocities were not that uncommon for ground combat units operating out in the boonies.
Thanks to him though, for remembering who he was and why he was there.
Thompson himself always said that it was the only massacre he ever heard of. I think the South Koreans had a much worse reputation, and perhaps the worst thing our troops did in some cases was let it happen.

Biker
January 14, 2006, 01:40 PM
http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/breaking_news/1

3567220.htm

Thanks, Malone.

Biker

BryanP
January 14, 2006, 01:46 PM
I heard about it earlier this week on NPR. You can listen to the full story, including audio from an earlier interview with Mr. Thompson here:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5133444

joab
January 14, 2006, 04:43 PM
I heard that the Mai Lai massacre was nothing exceptional. Those guys just got caught.
Atrocities were not that uncommon for ground combat units operating out in the boonies.
Thanks to him though, for remembering who he was and why he was there.My Lai is what started the reputation of the baby killing GIs and fueled the "Ripped from the headlines" Hollywood movie themess on the subject, that and Napalm Girl and the SVN policeman that executed the sapper

JJNA
January 14, 2006, 04:56 PM
Thompson himself always said that it was the only massacre he ever heard of. I think the South Koreans had a much worse reputation, and perhaps the worst thing our troops did in some cases was let it happen.Yes, My Lai was a terrible blight on our military, but - NO - mass killings of civilians by our forces were not widespred (by no means non-existent, just not widespread or deliberate). That's the rumor/innuendo/assumption spread by the news of My Lai (just as Abu Ghraib in the present war is the exception rather than the rule, but makes our critics jump in joy as a "proof" of widespread abuse).

And, indeed, not only did ROK forces have a much worse reputation, they were actually exceptionally brutal.

Without condoning their brutality, however, it should also be pointed out the ROK AORs were generally very safe. They fought very bravely and doggedly (if not tactically brilliantly), fought with the principle of "an eye for an eye" (even if it's not the right target's eye) and treated civilian population as a part of the war effort.

roscoe
January 15, 2006, 01:03 AM
We should all hope we would have the guts to do what he did.

Johnny_Yuma
January 15, 2006, 06:16 PM
We should all hope we would have the guts to do what he did.

Standing with Vietnamese civies AGAINST your own uniforms would be a tough, tough stand to make. Hugh Thompson proved himself to be a courageous, moral man.

Herself
January 15, 2006, 06:27 PM
Amen, JY. Amen.

--Herself

JesseJames
January 16, 2006, 01:06 PM
Touching on the ROK troops in Vietnam, one should try out the book
"White Badge" written by a ROK Vietnam veteran who was in the White Horse Division.
It's a fiction novel but obviously he drew from his experiences in the Army and Vietnam.
Very brutal and illuminating read.

Carl N. Brown
January 16, 2006, 01:24 PM
My Lai village was an exception not the rule,
but like man bites dog, it is the media's icon of the VietNam war.

The media will pound Lt. William Calley's name into granite,
but will allow the name of Hugh Thompson, who reflected the
truest American spirit, to fade into the mists.

I tacked the story of Thompson's passing on my wall under
my printed copy of the Soldier's Oath.

NavajoNPaleFace
January 16, 2006, 01:38 PM
Calley and his crew will be a continuing festering sore that the US will not get out from under for some decades to come.

Not wanting to get into why I know Calley but that sawed off runt didn't get nearly what he deserved.

Time in prison was too good for him.

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