Saturday, January 07, 2006

Rest in Peace, Hugh Thompson, Jr.

Hugh Thompson, Jr. died yesterday of cancer at age 62. I'll bet many of you don't know who he was and what he did.

Thompson was a war hero, but not the kind you'd normally think of. And he never wanted to be one. Originally volunteering for the most thankless and luckless of duties (drawing enemy fire), Thompson eventually chose an even more dangerous task: stopping his fellow soldiers from massacring civilians.

"Thompson joined the US Navy in 1961, then US Army in 1966 and trained as a helicopter pilot. He volunteered for the Aerial Scout Unit and assigned to Task Force Barker to fly over Vietnamese forests and try to draw enemy fire, to pinpoint the location of troops...

"After coming across the dead bodies of Vietnamese civilians outside My Lai on March 16, 1968, Thompson set down their OH-23 and the three men [Thompson, Crew Chief Glenn Andreotta and Spc Lawrence Colburn] began setting green gas markers by the prone bodies of the Vietnamese civilians who appeared to still be alive. Returning to the helicopter however, they saw Captain Ernest Medina run forward and begin shooting the wounded who had been marked - and the three men moved their ship back over the village where Thompson confronted Lt. Stephen Brooks who was preparing to blow up a hut full of cowering and wounded Vietnamese; he left Andreotta and Colburn to cover the company with their heavy machine guns and orders to fire on any American who refused the orders to halt the massacre. (Needless to say, none of the officers dared to disobey him, although as a mere warrant officer, Thompson was outranked by the commissioned lieutenants.)

Thompson: Let's get these people out of this bunker and get 'em out of here.
Brooks: We'll get 'em out with hand grenades.
Thompson: I can do better than that. Keep your people in place. My guns are on you.

"Thompson then ordered two other helicopters (one piloted by Dan Millians) flying nearby to serve as a medevac for the 11 wounded Vietnamese. While flying away from the village, Andreotta spotted movement in an irrigation ditch, and the helicopter was again landed and a child was extracted from the bodies, and brought with the rest of the Vietnamese to the hospital at Quang Ngai.

"Thompson subsequently reported the massacre, whilst it was still occuring, to his superiors. The cease-fire order was then given."

(The above is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Thompson,_Jr.)

"With Colburn and Andreotta providing cover – he told them to shoot the Americans if they opened fire – he coaxed the Vietnamese out of the bunker so they could be flown to safety...

"After the My Lai story broke, some Americans accused Thompson of treachery and called Lieut. William Calley, who led the massacre, a hero.

"In 1998, however, Thompson and his crew were awarded the Soldier's Medal, Andreotta posthumously. The medal is the highest U.S. honour for bravery not involving conflict with the enemy.

"The medal citation credited Thompson with saving at least 10 civilian lives directly and with taking back reports that led to a ceasefire order and ended the killings. He died Friday at a veterans hospital outside Washington.

"The only American punished for the massacre was Calley, who spent three years under house arrest before getting parole."

(The above is from http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/natio...ilot.html?print)

People on the left often malign military service and have a hard time viewing those who serve as heroes. It's one thing to express the view that the U.S. should never have gone into Vietnam. Fair enough. But given that the U.S. did go into Vietnam, imagine what would have happened if Hugh Thompson had not.

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