Reflection on My Lai

As a participant in Operation Pinkville, and as one of the contributors of information contained in Ridenhour’s original letter of complaint, and as the person who led the inspector general’s investigator to Hugh Thompson (the helicopter pilot I called to evacuate villagers), I would like to clear up some inaccuracies contained in Ridenhour’s perspective as well as add some thoughts of my own.

The contention that we “found no resistance” is not entirely true. Albeit quite limited, for the first few minutes of the operation we did come under fire from the village. And our platoon (commanded by Lt. Stephen Brooks, who was later killed in action) recovered weapons from bodies in the surrounding rice paddies after they had been killed by our helicopter gunships. When Ron talks of Task Force Barker, artillery and helicopter battalions, he fails to mention the participation of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, National Police and local militia in this operation. All were present at My Lai, and all played a very large part in the massacre.

Two days prior to My Lai, Charlie Company of Task Force Barker, my company, became trapped in a minefield. That day, two of our company were killed and 19 were wounded (most losing a leg or foot). We were frustrated, angry at our losses and spoiling for a fight. We were led to expect it at My Lai. When, a few minutes into the operation, it became apparent to some of us that there was no reinforced 48th Viet Cong Battalion (as we had been led to anticipate), it was already too late. The insanity had begun, and there was no way to stop it.

Now, 25 years later, I have only recently stopped having flashbacks of that morning. I still cannot touch a weapon without vomiting. I am unable to interact with any of the large Vietnamese population in Los Angeles for fear that they might find out who I am; and, because I cannot stand the pain of remembering or wondering if maybe they had relatives or loved ones who were victims at My Lai. I bitterly hate and no longer trust our military machine and our government, which employs it. I am sickened by our continued involvement in wars in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia and next, Bosnia.

Finally, I disagree that there is no direct parallel between American conduct in Vietnam and the Holocaust. It’s easy to see when you teach people to hate. When you teach that Vietnamese are not people; when you don’t kill a “gook” but simply “waste” it. It was easy for us to turn away. Easy not to get involved just like most Germans during World War II. It was easy to put in the time until we got to go back to the world. Unfortunately, some of us will walk in the jungles and hear the cries of anguish for all eternity.