Hugh Thompson, Jr. : biography
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006) was a United States Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He is best known for his role in stopping the My Lai Massacre, in which a group of US Army soldiers tortured and killed several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mutilating their bodies after they had been murdered. Although initially ill-treated in some quarters for their intervention, Thompson and his crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, were recognized and decorated many years later for their heroism at My Lai. Andreotta had died in combat three weeks after the massacre, and so was honored posthumously.
Having always wanted to fly, Thompson joined the US Army in 1966 and trained to become a helicopter pilot at Forts Wolters and Rucker. He arrived in Vietnam in late December 1967 and joined the 161st Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter), which was reorganized and expanded into the 123rd Aviation Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) in January 1968. Known as an aggressive and exceptional pilot, Warrant Officer Thompson flew a Hiller OH-23 Raven observation helicopter as part of Company B (the 'Warlords'). On March 16, 1968, he and his crew were supporting Task Force Barker (a battalion-sized element of the Americal) in a reconnaissance capacity. Serving as one door-gunner was his crew chief, Specialist Glenn Andreotta; the other door-gunner was Specialist Lawrence Colburn.
My Lai Massacre
In the early morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson's OH-23 encountered no enemy fire over My Lai 4. Spotting two possible Viet Cong suspects, he forced the Vietnamese men to surrender and flew them off for a tactical interrogation. Thompson also marked the location of several wounded Vietnamese with green smoke, a signal that they needed help.Bilton & Sim (1992), p. 137.
Returning to the My Lai area at around 0900 after refueling, he noticed that the people he had marked were now dead. Out in a paddy field beside a dike south of the village, he marked the location of a wounded young Vietnamese woman. Thompson and his crew watched from a low hover as Captain Ernest Medina (commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment) came up to the woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.
Thompson then flew over an irrigation ditch filled with dozens of bodies. Shocked at the sight, he radioed his accompanying gunships, knowing his transmission would be monitored by many on the radio net: "It looks to me like there's an awful lot of unnecessary killing going on down there. Something ain't right about this. There's bodies everywhere. There's a ditch full of bodies that we saw. There's something wrong here."Angers (1999), p. 117.
Movement from the ditch indicated to Thompson that there were still people alive in there. Thompson landed his helicopter and dismounted. David Mitchell, a sergeant and squad leader in 1st Platoon, C Company, walked over to him. When asked by Thompson whether any help could be provided to the people in the ditch, the sergeant replied that the only way to help them was to put them out of their misery. Second Lieutenant William Calley (commanding officer of the 1st Platoon, C Company) then came up, and the two had the following conversation:Angers (1999), pp. 119–120.
- Thompson: What's going on here, Lieutenant?
- Calley: This is my business.
- Thompson: What is this? Who are these people?
- Calley: Just following orders.
- Thompson: Orders? Whose orders?
- Calley: Just following...
- Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.
- Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I'm in charge here. It ain't your concern.
- Thompson: Yeah, great job.
- Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.
- Thompson: You ain't heard the last of this!
Thompson took off again, and Andreotta reported that Mitchell was now executing the people in the ditch. Furious, Thompson flew over the northeast corner of the village and spotted a group of about ten civilians, including children, running toward a homemade bomb shelter. Pursuing them were soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, C Company. Realizing that the soldiers intended to murder the Vietnamese, Thompson landed his aircraft between them and the villagers. Thompson turned to Colburn and Andreotta and told them that if the Americans began shooting at the villagers or him, they should fire their M60 machine guns at the Americans:Angers (1999), p. 124. "Y'all cover me! If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!" He then dismounted to confront the 2nd Platoon's leader, Stephen Brooks. Thompson told him he wanted help getting the peasants out of the bunker:
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