Memorial Day weekend is as good of a time as ever to pay your respects for the dead, more specifically those who served in the military. Being the child of two veterans and a staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy gives the holiday an extra dimension; one that causes deep reflection. It’s easy for me to play Hallelujah, I’m a Bum as sung by Barbara Dane on repeat, but I know owe a lot to the army. My parents would have never met if it wasn’t for them, so I would like to share one of my heroes who served in the military.
On March 16th, 1968, Officer Hugh Thompson played a critical role in the ending of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. He is the only member of the U.S. armed forces I know of that won the Soldier’s Medal for threatening to open fire on U.S. soldiers. He and his fellow helicopter operators Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn carried Vietnamese civilians to safety away from the 2nd Platoon that was killing unarmed civilians indiscriminately. Thompson gave the order to Andreotta and Colburn to open fire on any U.S. infantrymen who attempted to get in their way of protecting innocent life. During the altercation Thompson and Lt.William Calley of the 2nd Platoon, who murdered at least 22 civilians himself, exchanged these words:
Thompson: What’s going on here, Lieutenant?
Calley: This is my business.
Thompson: What is this? Who are these people?
Calley: Just following orders.
Thompson: Orders? Whose orders?
Calley: Just following…
Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.
Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern.
Thompson: Yeah, great job.
Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.
Thompson: You ain’t heard the last of this!
Ultimately, Thompson was right. He testified in Calley’s war crimes case. Despite facing opposition from the Pentagon, high-ranking military officials, and even congressmen that attempted to discount Thompson and cover up the mass killing of at least 347 unarmed civilians, Calley was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was pardoned by President Nixon. Calley only served three and half years in house arrest. Thompson, until he lost his battle with cancer in 2006, suffered from alcoholism and PTSD. He stared evil in the face and made it blink. He will forever be one of my heroes.