Helicopter Pilot Who Stopped My Lai Massacre Was Called A Traitor In America & Almost Court-Martialed

Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr.
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr.

As part of Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion, they were supposed to provide air support for the ground team. The helicopter crew at first thought that the platoons had come across a massacre. It didn’t take them long to realize that the platoons were actually the cause.

Landing near a ditch, they saw bodies in it, so Thompson asked Sergeant David Mitchell of the 1st Platoon if he needed help getting them out. Mitchell replied that Thompson could help by putting them out of their misery. Thompson then approached Calley who said he was shooting at the civilians under orders.

As the helicopter took off to report to base, Thompson saw Medina kick a woman before shooting her. Medina later said he thought the woman was holding a grenade. Landing once more, Thompson saw a group of 12 to 16 villagers huddling together at a bunker.

Approaching them were more soldiers, so Thompson ordered his crew to shoot at the men if they fired on the villagers. With Thompson standing guard, Andreotta and Colburne flew the villagers out in several groups while the platoon jeered at them. Returning to My Lai, they saved a four-year-old girl who was thrown into a ditch with her family.

The Hiller UH-12 (H-23) similar to the one used by Thompson and his men
The Hiller UH-12 (H-23) similar to the one used by Thompson and his men

The helicopter crew returned to base to report the incident, so Barker radioed Medina and told him to stop the slaughter. The operation was deemed a success, Charlie Company were congratulated for its outstanding job, and Medina got a Letter of Commendation.

Then the military tried to cover it up, claiming it had dealt a blow to the VC. Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Army Major, was put in charge of whitewashing the incident.

For the actions at My Lai, Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and his crew members Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn were awarded Bronze Star medals. Glenn Urban Andreotta received his medal posthumously, as he was killed in Vietnam on April 8, 1968. As the DFC citation included a fabricated account of rescuing a young girl of My Lai from “intense crossfire” Thompson threw his medal away. He later received a Purple Heart for other services in Vietnam. (Wikipedia)

Thompson (left) and Colburne (right) attending the 30th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre at the monument and museum in Vietnam
Thompson (left) and Colburne (right) attending the 30th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre at the monument and museum in Vietnam

Over the next several months, however, other witnesses began to talk and their reports reached members of the US Congress. It was Seymour Hersch, an independent investigative journalist, who first broke the story on 12 November 1969 after interviewing several men, including Medina.

In November the following year, Thompson finally testified and was vilified by high ranking members of the military, as well as various senators. Congressman Mendel Rivers, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, even accused him of being a traitor to his country and unsuccessfully attempted to have him court-martialed.

Although some were eventually charged for their involvement, all were later acquitted. On 16 March 1988, Thompson, Colburne, other veterans, and some survivors of the massacre met at the My Lai Monument to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the incident.

Back home “I’d received death threats over the phone,” he told the CBS News program “60 Minutes” in 2004. “Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up. So I was not a good guy.”

In 1998, the Army presented the Soldier’s Medal, for heroism not involving conflict with an enemy, to Mr. Thompson; to his gunner, Lawrence Colburn; and, posthumously, to Mr. Andreotta.

The citation, bestowed in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, said the three crewmen landed “in the line of fire between American ground troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians to prevent their murder.” (NY Times)

No US diplomats attended the event or even acknowledged that it took place.

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