Friday, October 23, 2009

Remembering Calley.

This past August William Calley said, for the first time, that he was sorry for what he did 40 years ago in Vietnam.

Gee, Bill, that's swell.

Ever since he made his public mea culpa, I haven't been able to get him out of my head. For those of you too young to remember the crimes of William Calley, he was convicted of murdering 22 civilians in the village of My Lai, but surely guilty of many more than that.

A whitewash involving Colin Powell, then a 31-year-old Major, followed. In late 1969, the great Seymour Hersh broke the story of the massacre.

Calley was court-martialed in 1970 and sentenced to life in prison. Nixon reduced his sentence to 3 years house arrest. I remember how I felt at the time. I was sleeping in the mud. Calley was sleeping in a nice warm bed, in a nice apartment with regular visits from his girlfriend.

That pissed me off, just a little bit.

America was divided about the war, with Republicans like young Dick Cheney, who opted not to serve, cheering it on. That support and Nixon's action was the start of my lifelong disgust with the hypocrisy and sham patriotism of the GOP.

Nixon's move was popular, as he knew it would be. In a Gallup poll taken in 1971, 79% of Americans said that Calley's sentence of life was too harsh. I'll let you make up your own mind. This is from Dennis Conti's testimony at Calley's trial:

"...Calley and Meadlo got on line and fired directly into the people...Lots of heads was shot off, pieces of heads and pieces of flesh flew off the sides and arms. They were all messed up. Meadlo fired a little bit and broke down. He was crying. He said he couldn't do any more. He couldn't kill any more people...At that time there was only a few kids still alive. Lieutenant Calley killed them one-by-one. "

And this, from prosecutor Aubrey Daniel's summation:

"We told you that they then moved to an irrigation ditch on the eastern side of the village of My Lai, and there, the accused, along with members of his platoon did as the accused directed, gathered up more people, this time unarmed men, women, children, and babies, and put them in that irrigation ditch and shot them, and that he (indicating defendant) participated; and he caused their death and that they died."


"Shortly thereafter, the accused heard someone yell, 'A child is getting away!' He ran back to that area, picked the child up, approximately two years old, threw the child in the ditch, shot, and killed him."

Yeah, 3 years confined to an apartment. That's justice. So, as sorry as William Calley is today, and the demons he must have lived with for the past 40 years, I'm having a hard time ginning up any sympathy. Fuck him and his apology. He cast dishonor on all of us in uniform.

I don't want to end the week on such a down note, so I'll give a salute to three men who were in My Lai that day, three men who did not get an Esquire cover or Nixon's love. They were a helicopter crew who acted with more honor than the president, and in those dark days of 1968, we could have used a few more men in white hats.

It wasn't until 30 years later that the Army recognized their valor. This is from the NPR story about Hugh Thompson's death in 2006:

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai.

They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings.

In 1998, the Army honored the three men with the prestigious Soldier's Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy. It was a posthumous award for Andreotta, who had been killed in battle three weeks after My Lai.

"It was the ability to do the right thing even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did," Army Maj. Gen. Michael Ackerman said at the 1998 ceremony. The three "set the standard for all soldiers to follow."

Thirty years seems a little late, especially for Andreotta, but better late than not at all. Here's Thompson and Colburn in My Lai in 1998. Happier times. God bless them.

On a side note, the Esquire cover was the work of the legendary ad man/art director, George Lois. I usually admire his dark sensibility, but that cover's a bit much, even for me.


pattinase (abbott) said...

That cover turned my stomach.

Graham Powell said...

I'm not sure life was harsh enough for this. Calley's actions unfairly darken the reputations of all our soldiers.

If you didn't like that cover, here's a portrait of a hero.

Gary M said...

Great post, David. It's a dark part of our past that is too easily swept under the carpet. I can only imagine that uttering the name "Lieutenant Calley" will bring absolutely no response from those under 40 years of age. Unfortunately, the same is true for Thompson, Colburn and Andreotta as well. Thank you for mentioning their true bravery and humanity.

Tom said...

The Huey crew; real patriots. They stood up.

You're right, Gary; Gen X has no idea (or any great interest from what I can tell) in the story of Calley and Medina.

Graham; thank you.

Oyoyewi said...

Calley, hope the fucking idiot dies a painfull death,including all those GI morons, die with pain, lots of it