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. Like many Vietnam veterans, suffered from alcoholism and PTSD and struggled for much of his life to reconcile with what had happened. He stared evil in the face and made it blink. He will forever be one of my heroes.