When wars break out, fatal loss of human lives is inevitable. Such dreadful events are either tempered or remain untold due to point-scoring and the sacred reputation of forces in power. When people blow a whistle, they either die before appearing in front of the world or face backlash from the society. Hugh Thompson Jr. is one of the whistleblowers.
Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. was born on April 15, 1943, in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. He was a United States Army Major, also formerly served as a warrant officer. Hugh Thompson Jr. along with Glen Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, helped end the My Lai Massacre of the Son My village in Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam on March 16, 1968.
My Lai Massacre
The My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of around 504 innocent unarmed civilians belonging to rice-farming families. The most saddening part is that the murderers completely wiped out the entire civilization, be it the children, old folks, men, or women. There was no question of mercy, and the ruthless killers never looked back.
As unfortunate it was for the innocent to fall prey to the merciless uniformed personnel, the question as to why the incident occurred in the first place was never answered. It all started when the Task Force Barker, led by Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Barker, received inaccurate information from the Military Intelligence Corps about the Son My village being a stronghold of the insurgents.
Hugh Thompson’s observation helicopter crew, including his OH-23 Hiller, was responsible for providing reconnaissance to the Task Force Barker’s search & destroyed operations in the Son My village. According to Hugh, they flew over the vicinity of the Son My village multiple times but suspected no enemy movement.
Thompson saw the Company C (Charlie Company), 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment of Task Force Barker, led by Captain Ernest Medina, suddenly charging into the village and began shelling. The shelling alone claimed the lives of so many innocent villagers. The troops of Company C led by Lieutenant William Laws Calley Jr. raped, tortured, stabbed, burnt, and bombed hundreds of men, women, and children.
Around 70-80 villagers consisting of mostly women and children were pushed into a large irrigation ditch and then murdered. Only one child aged between five or six was found alive by Andreotta lying under a corpse as Andreotta suspected a movement in the irrigation ditch.
The Rescue Mission
Twenty-six years later, Hugh recounted at an academic conference: “We kept reconning back and forth, it was not long before we started seeing bodies everywhere on the ground. Everywhere we looked, we’d see bodies. These were infants, two-three-four-five-year-olds, women, very old men, and no draft-age people whatsoever.”
At first, Thompson and his crew thought that artillery bombardments killed the people, but they soon discovered that the U.S. Army troops killed the villagers when Thompson saw a wounded twenty-year-old girl named Nguyen Thi Tau, murdered right in front of him by Capt. Medina.
Thompson marked the girl with green smoke to get medical attention for her as they saw a squad not too far away. Thompson and his crew were hovering six feet off the ground, not twenty feet far away when Capt. Medina kicked the girl on the ground and shot her.
After witnessing the murder of the girl, Thompson immediately rushed back to his helicopter along with his crew to find signs of life. He saw a group of women and children running for their lives from the 2nd Platoon of the Company C. He brought his helicopter between the soldiers and the civilians and ordered Andreotta and Colburn to shoot the soldiers if they intended to harm them in any way.
In the meanwhile, Thompson tried to search for as many villagers as he could. Thompson also ensured evacuation to the villagers with the help of the two UH-1 Huey pilots he knew.
Thompson made an official report on the killings, but the senior leadership of the Army made a cover-up and resultantly, aborted the operations of similar nature. In 1970, Thompson also testified against twenty-six officers and soldiers of Company C, which included Lt. William Calley and Capt. Ernest Medina. The tried personnel were found guilty, but eventually, they all got either acquitted or pardoned.
The U.S. Army quickly covered up the My Lai Massacre and Thompson was awarded Distinguish Flying Cross for his heroic efforts at My Lai. Thompson threw away the citation as it cited fabricated events.
In 1998, Hugh Thompson Jr., Andreotta (posthumously), and Colburn were awarded a Soldier’s Medal, the United States Army’s highest award for bravery without having direct contact with the enemy. Thompson and Colburn were also rewarded with the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in 1999.
The Backlash from Public & the State:
Hugh also appeared before the special closed hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, DC in 1969. Instead of lauding Thompson’s valor, Chairman Mendel Rivers and other congressmen wanted only Thompson to be punished for turning against his fellow troopers.
Thompson’s bravery came at the cost of posttraumatic stress disorder, divorce, alcoholism as well as severe nightmare disorder. Hugh Thompson Jr. continued receiving death threats & backlash till his death on January 6, 2006.