My Lai Trial

The My Lai Trial was for the alleged murder of between 347 to 504 unarmed citizens in My Lai 4, South Vietnam on March 16, 1968, by a unit of the U. S. Army. Most killed were women, children and elderly people.

On November 17, 1970 Lt. William Calley was charged and tried for murder for the deaths of 102 people. Capt. Aubrey Daniels, the Prosecutor (in part) outlined the essence of his case. He said “These people were taken in a group to the Southern end of the village and directed to be guarded by Pvt. Meadio and Pvt. Dursi and were told “take care of these people.” Lt. Calley returned and said “Why haven’t you taken care of these people?” They replied: “We have.” “I mean kill’em--waste ‘em.” Daniels said Calley and Meadio, Calley using a rifle, ‘with full bursts of automatic fire’ shot these people.”

An opposite response came from CWA Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot who flew over an irrigation ditch filled with dozens of bodies. He radioed his accompanying gun ships “It looks to me like there’s an awful lot of unnecessary killing going on down there. Something ain’t right about this. There’s bodies everywhere.” Thompson spotted a group of about ten civilians, including children running toward a homemade bomb shelter. Pursuing them were soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, C Company. Thompson landed his aircraft between the them and the villagers. Thompson told his crewmen “Y’all cover me! If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!” After coaxing 11 Vietnamese out of the bunker, he persuaded the pilots of the 2 supporting gun ships to evacuate them.

On March 30, 1971, Lt. Calley was found guilty of the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians. On April 1, 1971, Lt. Calley was sentenced to Life at hard labor. Lt. Calley said “The only crime I committed…..I valued my troops lives more than that of the enemy.” The next day, on April 2, 1971, Lt. Calley was released from the Ft Benning stockade & confined to his own quarters pending his appeal on the orders of President Nixon. On November 10, 1974, less than 4 years after he was sentenced to life imprisonment, Lt. Calley was freed by a civilian court.