My Lai Hero Hugh Thompson Dies Friday
But from the very beginning, the military tried to cover up the massacre. And that wasn't all. Thompson is uncomfortable talking about it, but before the Hall of Fame ceremony in Nashville, he and Colburn told 60 Minutes that the U.S. military had stopped providing him with adequate back-up on his chopper missions after My Lai.
“He was placed in a very precarious position as far as the missions that he was carrying out,” says Colburn. “He didn’t have any adequate cover in my opinion. Instead of being followed by two armed gun ships, he had another scout helicopter.”
Scout helicopters are not equipped with the machine guns and rockets carried by the larger Huey gun ships.
“It seemed like he was really going out on a limb when he was going out without adequate cover,” says Colburn.
How many choppers did he lose? “I think three or four, something like that,” says Thompson.
Actually, Thompson crashed a total of five times. And the last time, he broke his back.
Why has none of this ever been told before? “I don’t know,” says Thompson. “I just sorta like went underground. I didn’t mention it to anybody.”
Thompson may have clammed up, but word of what he had done followed him when he returned from Vietnam to the United States. And he kept paying a price for turning on his fellow soldiers at My Lai.
“I'd received death threats over the phone,” says Thompson. “We didn’t have caller ID. But it was scary. Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up. So I was not a good guy.”
He said that when he went to the Officer’s Club, there would be “100 people in there after work, and five minutes after I was there, you know, it seemed like it was me and the bartender left.”
“This was because the truth, I don't think, was out there. This was, I was somebody that was crying and whining about a few people getting accidentally killed,” says Thompson. “There was no accidental killing that day. It was murder.”
But when Thompson testified about those murders to Congress in 1970, his testimony was kept secret. He says they didn’t want the story out: “Well, not when one of the senior Congressmen here in the secret testimony say if anybody goes to jail that day, it'll be that helicopter pilot.”
With the truth hidden away, Thompson admits he felt very much alone. For years, he remained silent about My Lai. The military, meanwhile, continued to give him the cold shoulder.
Ronald Ridenhour was an investigative journalist who played a central role in spurring the investigation of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. He heard of the massacre from friends while serving in Vietnam, and on his return to the United States sent letters to numerous congressmen and government officials. The only Congressman to respond was Morris Udall. Independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, after extensive conversations with Ridenhour, broke the My Lai story on November 12, 1969, The only soldier prosecuted was Georgia's Lt. William Calley who was convicted and served three years under house arrest until pardoned by Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter, then governor of Georgia, was instrumental in the state wide campaign to show support for Calley by urging people to drive with their lights on. Colin Powell also whitewashed the incident.