Good American soldiers, three heroic American soldiers Thompson, Colburn, Andreotta in the My Lai massacre in 1968

W.Minh Tuan

The world public knows a lot about the My Lai massacre, Quang Ngai province on March 16, 1968, but few people know about the 3 brave Americans who tried to stop this massacre, and tried to save many Vietnamese lives in that massacre.

They were Corporal Thompson, Corporal Colburn, and pilot Andreotta.

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, 3 people received orders to take a helicopter piloted by Captain Andreotta, to fly to the area of Son My commune, My Lai village, Quang Nam province, near Da Nang, to support Charlie company fighting against communist forces.

When flying to My Lai, looking down from the plane, they saw white clouds of shells fired from Chu Lai base on the west side of My Lai village. The women who were running, herding the children, ran down to the cellars inside the farmer’s houses. The farmers who were working in the fields scattered across the fields looking for a place to hide.

Buffaloes, cows, pigs and chickens scattered in all directions.

From their own helicopter, 3 soldiers seen helicopters carrying American soldiers began to land in My Lai village, groups of American soldiers got out of the helicopters, and ran to find cover, getting ready to fight.

Three people flew to the archipelago throughout the area of Son My commune and My Lai village to scout and try to find out if there were any communist forces. But not seen.

They only saw unarmed peasants running around the village, looking for cover.

The three flew back to Chu Lai base to refuel, then flew back to My Lai village to support Charlie Company on the ground.

When the three flew back to My Lai, the scene on the ground was terrible.

Dead bodies were scattered throughout the village.

All dead bodies were peasants, women, children, the elderly, scattered in horribly contorted positions, none of whom appeared to be communists.

But Mr. Thomson still did not believe that this was the murdering made by Charlie Company, because he thought the US military could not commit such a terrible crime.

That could only be the barbaric act of the ancient Hittite army of Asia Minor and Syria more than 3000 years ago.

Mr. Thomson thought there must be some answer to the carnage on the ground.

Suddenly, 3 people saw a young woman injured, lying on the ground. And not far from her, there were a group of American soldiers were approaching her.

Not seeing the weapon next to the woman, Mr. Thompson thought it was not communist.

He dropped a smoke grenade next to the woman, to mark it, and called down the group of American soldiers on the ground, telling them to send a doctor to save her.

This group of American soldiers consisted of about 3 or 4 people, led by Captain Ernest Medina.

Mr. Thomson felt reassured, seeing the unit commander in that group.

Captain Medina approached the wounded woman.

She weakly signalled something.

Captain Medina immediately shot and killed her.

All three people from the helicopter were stunned at the scene, and shouted in unison over the radio, “She’s not threatening anyone.”

The three continued to hover over the village of My Lai, hoping to spot more unarmed farmers, to inform groups of American soldiers that were scouring the village.

From the plane, the 3 people saw a bunker, where many people were sheltering.

They were just farmers, women, children, old women,,,.

By this time, the 3 Americans had begun to understand that in My Lai there was no fighting at all, but just a massacre of the ordinary people.

“Go down to save them,” the three of them shouted at the same time.

Captain Andreotta lowered the plane, and Mr. Thompson jumped out of the plane and ran to the bunker.

At that time, a group of American soldiers also arrived. Mr. Thompson told the group of American soldiers to join him in bringing the Vietnamese who were in the bunker to somewhere safety.

One American soldier replied that he would “take it to safety” with a grenade.

“Huh, then you guys stand back, don’t go any further”- Thompson shouted.

On the plane parked nearby, Corporal Colburn was piloting a 60mm machine gun, aimed at a group of American soldiers.

If the group of American soldiers advanced, Colburn would open fire.

Mr. Thompson rushed to the bunker, pulled all the Vietnamese out of the bunker, 10 farmers in all, and pushed them onto the plane.

The three Americans carried the Vietnamese farmers to safety, dropped them off, and turned the plane back to My Lai, searching for other farmers.

Andreotta discovered a pile of dead bodies in a field, but something moved. He parked the plane in the field, and jumped out of the plane, running to dig through the pile of dead bodies.

He pulled out an injured, but still breathing, baby wriggling. They took the baby to Quang Ngai airport and delivered the baby to the hospital.

At the command post, Thompson ran to find his superiors, shouting loudly that the massacre of civilians had to be stopped.

No one listens to him.

But in the end, Major Frank Barker heard, and ordered the carnage to stop.

At that time, more than 500 civilians were killed.

A week after the My Lai massacre, pilot Andreotta was killed in another battle with the communists.

The end of war, Thompson and Colburn returned to America, living quietly, no one wants to have contact  with them.

They are said to have helped the Vietnamese enemy.

In 1998, 30 years after the massacre  in My Lai, Vietnam celebrated the anniversary of the massacre, and invited Mr. Thompson to Vietnam, to My Lai to attend the Commemoration Ceremony.

American journalists accompanied him.

In My Lai, Vietnamese farmers who were saved by him, and their descendants, ran to meet him, saying thank you:

“-Why are you so different from other Americans?”-a woman who is now older more than 60 years old, whose life he saved 30 years ago, asked.

“I do not know. But we’re not trained to slaughter civilians,” Thompson replied.

Returning to the US after the 1998 My Lai Anniversary, Mr. Thompson’s mailbox was flooded with letters from around the world, praising the brave actions of him and his two teammates 30 years ago.

A letter written “The world needs so much more good guys of the likes of you”.

In 2006, Mr. Thompson died quietly in the US, without family, without wife and children.

But the Hugh Thompson Foundation Facebook Web site remains.

Please visit this website.