Blogroll Me! How This Old Brit Sees It ...: Hugh C. Thompson, Jr: Officer, Gentleman And Forgotten Hero Of My Lai Massacre

31 March 2007

Hugh C. Thompson, Jr: Officer, Gentleman And Forgotten Hero Of My Lai Massacre

Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006)

Following our previous My Lai massacre post -- please, please, please read this re; A forgotten American hero of the My Lai massacre.

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.

The massacre

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[1]:

* 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.

We think it's the very least anyone can should do for this amazing American hero.

After all, wouldn't you agree with us that we owe him?



Anonymous whoever said...

Richard - I had no idea. I never ever heard this story before. A REAL hero - in fact more than one.

Now ..... where the hell is Hollywood when it's needed?

12:19 am  
Anonymous martha said...

I recently said I wondered if Calley was in hell yet.

But I KNOW this man is in heaven.

Thanks so much for this Richard. Rest assured I'll pass it on. EVERYONE should know this brave man's story.

12:28 am  
Anonymous Tom V said...

Yes we all owe it to him in the West, but particularly the Americans, and those in uniform owe it to him, that it was because of him and a few others, that there was no blankett disgrace put on each and every one of them.

I remember a wartime story, from one of the book I red about the 2nd WW, involving Admiral Dönitz, commander of the submarine units of the Third Reich:

As the war progressed, intelligence from the Kriegmarine reported to him, that after their initial devastating losses, the Allies (with the help of the near limitless industrial capacity of America, which was gearing-up for a gigantic war effort) were able to replace sunk ships faster, than his submarines destroyed them.
The only 'solution' appeared to be, is to actively massacre the shipwrecked sailors, merchant mariners in the water, by surfacing up whenever possible, and shooting them with the heavy machine gun, fixed on the forward deck of each U-boat.
However, not even he could give this in direct order, but instead he hinted this 'solution' to his submarine captains by explaining the 'dillema', and quoting various examples during confidential meetings.
Obviously the final decision rested on the individual captains' shoulders -young men in their mid-twenties, in the most.

Humanity's experience in this instance?
Same as during later on, in My Lai: Some had regretfully followed the 'recommendations', some others willfully ignored them, and even objected them strongly.

The moral of the story?

It doesn't matter who wears what uniform. Unlike those idiotic and distorting Hollywood war movies, that is not a strong indication of character. It is each and every one of the officer's responsibility in command, to uphold basic decency among his men, mainly by providing an example, even in times of brutal battle conditions.

I agree with Richard, that these historical lessons are very timely now, and it is immensely worth repeating to everyone in uniform, but particularly to our American cousins.

1:03 am  
Anonymous D.K. Raed said...

I remember this man well. His story was not made public until years after the event, at least here in the states. I'm ashamed to say, I did not even know he had died. As for My Lai, I remember extreme controversy at the time -- many people flat out refusing to believe it happened at all, or believing it had been exaggerated all out of proportion, that our troops would never ... etc. I hear echos of the same BS today. Thompson is a hero. It takes so much more bravery to stand up against the prevailing tide than to go with the flow. ~~ D.K.

1:21 am  
Anonymous kass said...

A man of honor. Just recently I heard the story of another honorable man, the young man who finally spoke up about the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. He, his wife, his mother and apparently other members of his family have, after three years, just left the protection system of the US government. All of them were subject to death threats from even their own neighbors in their home town. I am ashamed that I cannot recall his name.

Will we truly never learn?

1:52 am  
Blogger Gert said...

Well, I'd never heard of this man. That was an eye-opener!

10:10 am  
Anonymous bluey said...

There's about as much chance of Hollywood making a movie about this as there is that pigs will fly.

Anyway, he derserves more than a movie - he deserves a monument - a great BIG one.

12:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a sorry state of affairs that young Americans need be taught their own history by an old Brit.

That's not to say they shouldn't be grateful. Keep up your good work Richard. More like you are needed with each passing day.

4:58 pm  
Blogger bootlian said...

What a story!

One thing though, Richard.

He was much more a hidden hero than a forgotten hero. Hidden well, for a long time, for good reason. Why, he might have started a fashion if they'd let his story out properly.

5:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The peace abbey Thompson was associated with, in trying to acknowledge civilian deaths in these wars, is a fine tribute to the long-standing antiwar sentiment in New England, home of abolitionists (well, some took radical means) and of antimilitarists like Thoreau and many Quakers. The other side of the coin in New England is service, and sometimes that is expressed as military service. My children visited the abbey with Unitarian friends.

Why is it that militarism is glorified in the former slave states? The so-called "red states"? Well, there is a big pool of poor whites and unemployed blacks who take "the President's dollar" and sign up to acquire status in their impoverished hometowns. They were the target of the crude emotional appeals linking Saddam with 9/11, long after Bush knew he was lying through his teeth and would not have dared to say such things among the privileged. These are in fact "the underprivileged" of which Barbara Bush spoke so patronizingly when she saw them on cots in the Houston dome. How they were better off in shelters than their own homes after Katrina.

Given such peoples' confusion, even during Vietnam (when many became heroin addicts while serving in country), Thompson's actions stand as a bright beacon of heroism. It sounds like he was brought up to have a conscience and that he knew how to use it in the moment when the whole world needed his example. The phrases "grace under pressure" and "profile in courage" come to mind. I hope it is true. It should be engraved in our hearts as an example. He needs to be known as Dr. King and others of such mettle are known.

8:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May that wonderful human being rest in eternal peace, but may his memory live on in the hearts and minds of all who read his story.

Thank you for this, Old Brit. But for you we would never have known.

11:12 pm  
Anonymous xyz said...

Read this.

From someone who was there.

12:10 am  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

Thanks, xyz.

Your link is to another story about that event, most of it written back in 2002 by one of the gunners, now the only still-living member of the crew.

It provides more details (updates) about the child that was rescued from the ditch, Also a glimpse of his own upbringing (he lost his father when he was only about 12 or so) and a peek at what he is doing now with the Quakers and others in the cause of Peace.

Incidentally, I found it interesting that this man comes from a military family that lived in the state of Washington less than 200 miles from where I live. All the place names mentioned are familiar ones.

2:01 pm  
Anonymous hugo said...

OK call me crazy if you want but I've been looking at these two men's faces ~ back&forth ~ for quite a while -- and I swear I can see good in one face, and evil in the other.

OK, is it just me? Am I crazy?

11:38 pm  
Blogger landsker said...

My own view is that anyone who takes up military service has missed the point of human history, and has agreed to kill on behalf of the politicians.
The war machine makes machines, and those machines require "operatives".
Defending your nation, or defending the profits of the war machine?

12:13 pm  
Anonymous Rosemary said...

That's why some men choose the Coast Guard or try to qualify as Medics if they have to go in the military. If there is no draft, they can always choose the Merchant Marines if they want to see the world or become Firefighters or do Search and Rescue work in the wilds of our own country if they want to perform human service doing difficult and dangerous things and have the skills for it.

5:38 pm  
Anonymous Hydrocodone said...

eHokDA The best blog you have!

4:59 am  
Anonymous ronbriand said...

Hugh was the poster child for how to be a brave soldier. It was a sad day when the world lost hugh.
Ron Briand USMC

6:01 pm  

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