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Friday, January 06, 2006

Any Hugh Thompsons in Iraq?

Pardon my ignorance, but I never heard of Hugh Thompson Jr. until five minutes ago. I only heard about him now for two reasons: he just died, and the NY Times headline My Lai Hero Hugh Thompson Jr. Dies at 62. The clash between "My Lai" and "Hero" jumped off of the page (well, monitor) because they just don't go together--like "Bush" and "Brilliance" or "Cheney" and "Decency." Figuring this had to be just another atrocious headline, I had to check it out. And I found out that the words "My Lai" and "Hero" can go together. Here's the start of the AP story:
Hugh Thompson Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot honored for rescuing Vietnamese civilians from his fellow GIs during the My Lai massacre, died early Friday. He was 62.

Thompson, whose role in the 1968 massacre did not become widely known until decades later, died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Alexandria, hospital spokesman Jay DeWorth said.

Trent Angers, Thompson's biographer and family friend, said Thompson died of cancer.

"These people were looking at me for help and there was no way I could turn my back on them," Thompson recalled in a 1998 Associated Press interview.

Early in the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta came upon U.S. ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai.

They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians and pointed their own guns at the U.S. soldiers to prevent more killings.

Colburn and Andreotta had provided cover for Thompson as he went forward to confront the leader of the U.S. forces. Thompson later coaxed civilians out of a bunker so they could be evacuated, and then landed his helicopter again to pick up a wounded child they transported to a hospital. Their efforts led to the cease-fire order at My Lai.
Thompson, Colburn and Andreotta were snubbed and treated as traitors for years, according to the article, until finally in 1998 they were awarded the Soldier's Medal. They certainly couldn't have expected medals for their bravery back in 1968, when their higher-ups in the chain of command, including Major Colin Powell, were covering up the massacre at My Lai. (Then again, the three heroes may have escaped court martials or worse BECAUSE of the coverup--prosecuting them then might have exposed the crime at My Lai, which remained a dirty secret until one of the soldiers who had been at My Lai presented the evidence to journalist Seymour Hersh.)

Still--It's a shame not to hear of a real hero until he's dead.