Hugh C. Thompson, Jr: Officer, Gentleman And Forgotten Hero Of My Lai Massacre
Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006)
And then please, please, please pass it on.
Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006) was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.
He is chiefly known for his role in curtailing the My Lai massacre, during which he was flying a reconnaissance mission.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Thompson joined the US Navy in 1961—then US Army in 1966, where he trained as a helicopter pilot.
He volunteered for the Aerial Scout Unit and was assigned to Task Force Barker to fly over Vietnamese forests and try to draw enemy fire to pinpoint the location of troops.
Serving as one door-gunner, his Crew Chief was Glenn Andreotta and his other door-gunner was Spc Lawrence Colburn. Both would later receive recognition for heroism for their role at My Lai, though Andreotta died three weeks after the event.
After coming across the dead bodies of Vietnamese civilians outside My Lai on March 16, 1968, Thompson set down their OH-23. The three men began setting green smoke markers by the prone bodies of those Vietnamese civilians who appeared to still be alive, in order to call in medical assistance.
Returning to the helicopter, however, they saw Captain Ernest Medina run forward and begin shooting the wounded who had been marked.
The three men moved their ship back over the village, where Thompson confronted Lt. Stephen Brooks who was preparing to blow up a hut full of wounded Vietnamese.
Thompson left Andreotta and Colburn to cover the company with their heavy machine guns and gave orders to fire on any American who refused the orders to halt the massacre.
None of the officers dared to disobey him, even though (as a warrant officer) Thompson was outranked by the commissioned lieutenants present. Colburn later recounted the following dialogue:
* Thompson: Let's get these people out of this bunker and get 'em out of here.
Brooks: We'll get 'em out with hand grenades.
Thompson: I can do better than that. Keep your people in place. My guns are on you. *
Thompson then ordered two other helicopters (one piloted by Dan Millians and the other by Brian Livingstone) flying nearby to serve as a medevac for the 11 wounded Vietnamese.
While flying away from the village, Andreotta spotted movement in an irrigation ditch. The helicopter was again landed and a child was extracted from the bodies, and brought with the rest of the Vietnamese to the hospital at Quang Ngai.
Thompson subsequently reported the massacre, while it was still occurring, to his superiors. The cease-fire order was then given.
After My Lai
Retained on the dangerous OH-23 Raven helicopter missions, which some considered punishment for his intervention and the subsequent media coverage, Thompson was shot down a total of five times, breaking his backbone on the last attack. He suffered psychological scars from his service in Vietnam throughout the rest of his life.
Exactly thirty years later, Thompson, Andreotta and Colburn were awarded the Soldier's Medal (Andreotta posthumously), the United States Army's highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy.
In 1998, Thompson and Colburn returned to the village in My Lai, where they met with some of the villagers saved through their actions — including Do Hoa, who had been pulled from the irrigation ditch at age 8. They also dedicated a new elementary school for the children of the village.
In 1999, Thompson and Colburn received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award. Later that year, both men served as co-chairs of STONEWALK, a group that pulled a 1-ton rock engraved "Unknown Civilians Killed in War" from Boston to Arlington National Cemetery.
In a 2004 interview with "60 Minutes," Thompson was quoted referring to C-Company's men involved in the massacre: "I mean, I wish I was a big enough man to say I forgive them, but I swear to God, I can't."
He served as a counselor in the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and gave a lecture at the United States Naval Academy in 2003 and the United States Military Academy in 2005 on Professional Military Ethics.
At the age of 62, after extensive cancer treatment, Thompson was removed from life support and died on January 6, 2006 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. Lawrence Colburn came from Atlanta, Georgia to be at his bedside.
Thompson was buried in Lafayette, Louisiana, with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute and a helicopter flyover.
Please read the full Wikipedia entry on the late Hugh C. Thompson Jr, right here.
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