Songmy. A small village in southern Vietnam. On March 16, 1968, at least 502 civilians — 173 children, 183 women (17 pregnant women), 149 men (mostly old men) were killed by American soldiers in this and the nearby villages. Some of the young women were repeatedly raped before dying. Moreover, the fact of the massacre of children, women, the elderly, as well as rape, was officially recognized by the American side.
Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson
The order for clearing the villages was given by Captain Ernest Medina. According to him, by this time there should not have been any civilians, but only Viet Cong and their sympathizers. It was necessary to burn the buildings, destroy the crops, kill the cattle, anyone who tries to resist - to destroy. Even women and children can be enemies and therefore, according to him, must be destroyed.
I will not describe what was happening there. There was no fight, no one fired a single shot at the Americans, it was just a massacre of defenseless residents. As one soldier said later: "I have not seen a single killed man of military age."Yes, not everyone took part in the slaughter, but no one, ANYBODY tried to stop their colleagues. Yes, it happens in war when murder, violence becomes commonplace, a habitual fact. But what was happening that day is beyond comprehension. No one was spared. Children and mothers who tried to defend them were finished off with bayonets. What really struck me was what was happening quietly filming an American correspondent on film. * And yes, the lunch break, of course, was - "war by war - lunch on a schedule", had a snack and went on to kill.
After the massacre was completed, a report on the work done followed, and above it approved the actions of their subordinates. Of course, the report did not say a word about the dead children, the report reported on a successful sweep of the Vietcong village. "128 Vietcong and 22 civilians" were killed in the village during a "tough shootout." General William Westmoreland congratulated the unit for "outstanding work" - "American infantry killed 128 communists in a bloody one-day battle."
Victims in the village could have been much more if it were not for the helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. He was sent to communicate with the unit operating in Songmee.Even from the air, he noticed a large number of corpses of civilians. At this time, he still did not understand what was happening. Having landed a helicopter, he ran up to Lieutenant Kelly and asked how he would help the wounded civilians. “Throwing a grenade at them,” the lieutenant grinned and let out a line, noticing the movement in the ditch, where the residents were shot in a pile.
"Thompson: but, these are human beings, unarmed people, sir.
Kelly: Thompson, this is my show. I'm in charge here. This is not your concern.
Thompson: Yeah, great job.
Kelly: You better get back in this helicopter and go about your business.
Thompson: You do not hear what I say! "**
Thomson took off in a helicopter determined to save at least someone. Seeing not far from the village a group of soldiers pursuing fleeing inhabitants, he put a helicopter between them, went out and demanded to stop the beating. Only after the helicopter crew, at his command, turned the machine guns on the soldiers, did they stop the pursuit. Thomson took on board several wounded civilians. Not far away, in a ditch, he noticed a movement and pulled out a wounded small child of four years old from under the corpses. At his request, several other crews descended and received wounded Vietnamese (mostly women and children).Returning to the base and handing over the wounded, he reported on what was happening in Songme. Immediately from the command followed the order to wind up the operation.
Silence the actions of the Americans failed, it was here that the photos of the correspondent were useful. For the first time since the days of the Second World War, Americans were brought to justice, killing civilians, but those victims were European-French, not Asian. No one answered for crimes against civilians in Japan in the Second World War, but as in Korea in the 50s.
Under trial, there were 26 American soldiers, Captain Medina and Lieutenant Kelly. Public attention to the process was incredible. One of the main prosecution witnesses was Thompson. Kelly was sentenced to life imprisonment, the rest were either acquitted or pardoned. The next day, under the personal order of President, Kelly was transferred from prison to house arrest. After three and a half years, Kelly was pardoned, having spent only one day in prison after the sentence of the prison, he spent the rest of the time in his own apartment under house arrest. Such was the price for the murder of 500 people, including women and children.
Captain Medina was acquitted because he did not give direct orders for the destruction of civilians and could not be responsible for the actions of his subordinates. Interestingly, such excuses were of little interest to American judges, who sentenced German and Japanese officers and generals to be hanged, as war criminals. As well as the Hague Tribunal, which had recently sentenced the Serb military to various terms.
Public opinion in the United States was on the side of Kelly, according to polls of more than half of citizens
The US was for his acquittal, more than a third for pardon, and only less than 10% for a conviction.
Whom did everyone hate? That's right - Hugh Thompson. As the general opinion of the chairman of the commission of the US Congress investigating this case, Randall Rivers, very precisely expressed, that if someone should be tried for participation in the events in Songmi, then it should be Thompson. Many acquaintances and friends turned away from him. Career advancement was closed. But Thompson did not leave the army, as a war veteran downed four times and injured in Vietnam, it was impossible to dismiss him. He served in the army until 1983.Shortly after the trial, his wife threw him, taking away the children, unable to withstand the constant threats over the phone, smashed windows, killed dogs and cats that they regularly threw on the porch. Depression, nightmares, and alcoholism became his constant companions.
Only after nearly 30 years has public opinion changed in his favor. From an outcast, he suddenly turned into a hero. He and his crew members (except for one who died in Vietnam) received the "Soldier's Medal" the highest US award for heroism in non-combat conditions. He traveled to Vietnam, where he met the rescued villagers and the very child he had once saved.
However, the fate of cruel - soon Hugh Thompson died in a hospital from cancer. He was buried as a national hero - a guard of honor, a coffin carried on an artillery gun carriage, a squadron of combat helicopters flew over, a farewell volley - all honor was in honor, the governor, representatives of the army, the US Congress participated in the funeral.
... But he never considered himself a hero, he just turned out to be the only one who tried to stop the terrible slaughter. And he remained faithful to his homeland, even when the country turned away from him.