The My Lai Massacre was a tragic incident that occurred on March 16, 1968, in the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. American troops of the Charlie Company, led by Lieutenant William Calley, entered the village of My Lai and indiscriminately killed between 347 and 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers, including women, children, and elderly people.
The soldiers had been ordered to search the village for Viet Cong fighters, but they encountered no resistance. Instead, they found themselves facing a population of mostly unarmed civilians, who they assumed were sympathetic to the enemy. Believing that everyone in the village was a potential threat, the troops began shooting and throwing grenades into homes, killing anyone in their path.
The massacre lasted for several hours, with soldiers also committing atrocities such as rape, mutilation, and torture. It wasn’t until an Army helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, arrived on the scene and saw the carnage that he was able to put a stop to the killing. Thompson and his crew intervened, flying low over the village and using their helicopter to evacuate surviving villagers and to provide medical aid to the wounded.
The news of the massacre sparked outrage in the United States and around the world. The US military initially denied the allegations, but as more evidence came to light, a military inquiry was launched. Calley and several other soldiers were eventually charged with crimes related to the massacre. Calley was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment but his sentence was later reduced and he was released after serving only three years under house arrest.
The My Lai Massacre is considered one of the most shocking incidents of the Vietnam War, and it had a significant impact on public opinion of the conflict. It highlighted the brutality of the war and the suffering endured by Vietnamese civilians caught in the middle of the conflict. The massacre also raised important questions about the role of the military and the responsibility of soldiers to refuse orders that violate human rights.