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Mỹ Lai massacre: 55 years since one of the US Army’s worst atrocities of the 20th century

my lai massacre memorial
via Wikimedia Commons

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    On March 16, 1968, more than 500 unarmed civilians were brutally killed in a mass murder committed by U.S. troops in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. 

    Victims of the Mỹ Lai massacre included men, women, children, infants and animals. Some women and children were gang-raped before their murders and had their bodies mutilated. Investigations later revealed an estimated 347 to 507 civilians were killed that day.

    Five platoons — Charlie Company, First Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade and 23rd Infantry Division — were ordered to carry out the killings by U.S. Captain Ernest L. Medina and Lieutenant William Calley Jr.

    Following the massacre, the military superiors involved in the incident were instructed to conduct a formal investigation into the incident. 

    Colonel Oran K. Henderson reported that only 20 civilians were accidentally killed in an attempt to cover up the truth of the incident. Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker corroborated Henderson’s report.

    After the American press reported on the massacre with interviews from survivors in Mỹ Lai, Lieutenant General William R. Peers was assigned to lead an official inquiry. 

    According to testimonies made by soldiers from the Charlie Company platoon, Captain Medina told soldiers the night before the massacre that all the people in Mỹ Lai would be “Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers,” and ordered them to “kill everything there — women, children, livestock.” 

    Another soldier testified that Colonel Henderson ordered them to “go in there aggressively, close with the enemy and wipe them out for good.”

    The final “Peers Report,” which consisted of 399 interviews with numerous soldiers and witnesses, revealed that hundreds of civilian casualties had taken place and a large number of people had contributed to suppressing evidence of any wrongdoing.

    At the end of the formal investigations, Lieutenant Calley was charged with six counts of premeditated murder for the deaths of 109 South Vietnamese civilians. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, which was later reduced to 20 years. Captain Medina was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and premeditated murder of over 100 civilians. Colonel Henderson was charged with dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime and perjury. Medina and Henderson were acquitted of all charges.

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