Vietnam War My Lai Massacre
Department of Defense Documents
689 pages of Department of Defense documents dealing with the My Lai massacre, archived on CD-ROM.
During the period 16-19 March 1968, a tactical operation was conducted into Son My Village, Son Tinh District, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam, by Task Force (TF) Barker, a battalion-size unit of the Americal Division. The Task Force was composed of a rifle company from each of the 11th Brigade's three organic infantry battalions; Company A, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry (A/3-1 Inf), Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry (B/4-3 Inf), and Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry (C/1-20 Inf). TF Barker was an interim organization of the11th Brigade, created to fill a tactical void resulting from the withdrawal of a Republic of Korea Marine Brigade from the Quang Ngai area. The commander was LTC Frank A. Barker.
The plans for the operation were never reduced to writing, but it was reportedly aimed at destroying the 48th VC Local Force (LF) Battalion, thought to be located in Son My Village, which also served as a VC staging and logistical support base. On two previous operations in the area, units of TF Barker had received casualties from enemy fire, mines, and boobytraps.
On 15 March 1968, the new 11th Brigade commander, Colonel Oran K. Henderson, visited the TF Barker command post. He urged them to press forward aggressively and eliminate the 48th LF Battalion. Following these remarks, LTC Barker and his staff gave an intelligence briefing and issued an operations order. The company commanders were told that most of the population of Son My were "VC or VC sympathizers" and were advised that most of the civilian inhabitants would be away from Son My and on their way to market by 0700 hours. The operation was to commence at 0725 hours on 16 March 1968 with a short artillery preparation, following which C/1-20 Inf was to combat assault into an LZ immediately west of My Lai and then sweep east through the subhamlet. Following C Company's landing, B/4-3 Inf was to reinforce C/1-20 Inf, or to conduct a second combat assault to the east of My Lai into an LZ south of the subhamlet of My Lai or "Pinkville." A/3-1 Inf was to move from its field location to blocking positions north of Son My.
During or subsequent to the briefing, LTC Barker ordered the commanders of C/1-20 Inf, and possibly B/4-3 Inf, to burn the houses, kill the livestock, destroy foodstuffs and perhaps to close the wells. No instructions were issued as to the safeguarding of noncombatants found there. During a subsequent briefing by Captain Medina to his men, LTC Barker's orders were embellished, a revenge element was added, and the men of C/1-20 Inf, were given to understand that only the enemy would be present in My Lai on 16 March and that the enemy was to be destroyed. In CPT Michles' briefing to his platoon leaders, mention was also apparently made of the burning of dwellings.
On the morning of 16 March 1968, the operation began as planned. By 0750 hours all elements of C/1-20 Inf were on the ground. Before entering My Lai, they killed several Vietnamese fleeing the area in the rice paddies around the subhamlet and along Route 521 to the south of the subhamlet. No resistance was encountered at this time or later in the day. The infantry assault on My Lai began a few minutes before 0800 hours. During the 1st Platoon's movement through the southern half of the subhamlet, its members were involved in widespread killing of Vietnamese inhabitants, comprised almost exclusively of old men, women, and children, and also in property destruction. Most of the inhabitants who were not killed immediately were rounded up into two groups. The first group, consisting of about 70-80 Vietnamese, was taken to a large ditch east of My Lai and later shot. A second group, consisting of 20-50 Vietnamese, was taken south of the hamlet and shot there on a trail. Similar killings of smaller groups took place within the subhamlet. Members of the 2d Platoon killed at least 60-70 Vietnamese men, women, and children, as they swept through the northern half of My Lai and through Binh Tay, a small subhamlet about 400 meters north of My Lai. They also committed several rapes. The 3d Platoon, having secured the LZ, followed behind the 1st and 2d and burned and destroyed what remained of the houses in My Lai and killed most of the remaining livestock. Its members also rounded up and killed a group of 7-12 women and children.
There was considerable testimony during the Pentagon's hearings that orders to stop the killing were issued two or three times during the morning. The 2d Platoon received such an order around 0920 hours and promptly complied. The lst Platoon continued the killings until perhaps 1030 hours, when the order was repeated. By this time the 1st Platoon had completed its sweep through the subhamlet. By the time C/1-20 Inf departed My Lai in the early afternoon, moving to the northeast for link-up with B/4-3 Inf, its members had killed at least 175-200 Vietnamese men, women, and children. The evidence indicates that only 3 or 4 were confirmed as Viet Cong although there were undoubtedly several unarmed VC (men, women, and children) among them and many more active supporters and sympathizers. One man from the company was reported as wounded from the accidental discharge of his weapon.
Since C Company had encountered no enemy opposition, B/4-3 Inf was air landed in its LZ between 0815 and 0830 hours, following a short artillery preparation. Little if any resistance was encountered, although the 2nd Platoon suffered 1 KIA and 7 WIA from mines and/or boobytraps. The lst Platoon moved eastward separately from the rest of B Company to cross and secure a bridge over the Song My Khe (My Khe River). After crossing the bridge and approaching the outskirts of the subhamlet Of My Khe, elements of the platoon opened fire on the subhamlet with an M-60 machinegun and M-16 rifles. The fire continued for approximately 5 minutes, during which time some inhabitants of My Khe, mostly women and children, were killed. The lead elements of the platoon then entered the subhamlet, firing into the houses and throwing demolitions into shelters. Many noncombatants apparently were killed in the process.
On the evening of 16 March 1968, after C/1-20 Inf and B/4-3 Inf had linked up in a night defensive position, a Viet Cong suspect was apparently tortured and maimed by a US officer. He was subsequently killed along with some additional suspects by Vietnamese National Police in the presence of US personnel. During the period 17-19 March 1968 both C/1-20 Inf and B/4-3 Inf were involved in additional burning and destruction of dwellings, and in the mistreatment of Vietnamese detainees.
One element which provided combat support to TF Barker on 16 March was an aero-scout team from Company B, 123d Aviation Battalion. A pilot of this team, Hugh Thompson, had been flying at a low altitude over My Lai during the morning hours and had observed the actions of C/1-20 Inf. He became greatly concerned over the "needless and unnecessary killings" he had witnessed. He landed his helicopter several times to aid the inhabitants and in an attempt to stop the killing. Thompson landed his helicopter between American troops and a group of Vietnamese hiding in a bunker. Thompson and two of his crew members, Spc. Lawrence Colburn and Spc. Glenn Andreotta, threaten to open fire on U.S. troops if they continued the attack. Thirty years later, the three were awarded the Soldier' Medal, the army's highest award for bravery not involving enemy combat.
Within the Americal Division, at every command level from company to division, actions were taken or omitted which together effectively concealed the Son My incident. Outside the division, advisory teams at Province, District and possibly the 2d ARVN Division also contributed to this end. Some of the acts and omissions that resulted in concealment of the incident were inadvertent while others constituted deliberate suppression or withholding of information. No reports of the crimes committed by C/1-20 Inf and B/4 - 3 Inf during the operation were made by members of the units, although there were many men in both companies who had not participated in any criminal acts. The commander of C/1-20 Inf assembled his men after the operation and advised them not to discuss the incident because an investigation was being conducted, and he advised one individual not to write to his Congressman about the incident. He also made a false report that only 20-28 noncombatants had been killed and attributed the cause of death to artillery and gunships.
One year later, A soldier, Ron Ridenhour, after returning home began a letter writing campaign. Ridenhour heard second hand accounts about what happened at Pinkville. His story eventually reached investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who broke the story to the American public on November 12, 1969. U.S. Army Lt. William Calley was charged with murder two months before Hersh reported the story. Calley was convicted in 1971 of murder and sentenced to life in prison. President Richard Nixon ordered Calley released from prison two days later. Calley spent three and a half years under house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning. Calley claimed he was following orders from Captain Medina, who was acquitted at trial.
Material on the disc consists of:
Report of the Department of the Army Review of the Preliminary Investigations into the My Lai Incident Volume 1 Report of the Investigation
This 393 page March 1970 report of the incident is also known as the Peers Report, after Lieutenant General William R. Peers, who lead the investigation which ended with this report. Among the many topics covered in the report are: The organization, operations, and training of the Americal 23d Division. An overview of the preparations for the Son My operation. Significant factors which contributed to the Son My incident. History of the people of Quang Hgai Province. Enemy tactics and techniques in the region. Detailed description of the events involving the actions of Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry (C/l-20 Inf), Company B, 4th Battalion, 3d Infantry (B/4-3 Inf) and Company A, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry (A/3-1 Inf). Policy and directives as to rules of engagement and treatment of noncombatants. Viet Cong propaganda about the incident. The suppression and withholding of information on the incident.
Judge Advocates in Vietnam: Army Lawyers in Southeast Asia 1959-1975 by Colonel Frederic L. Borch III
This 174 page U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute publication is a narrative history of Army lawyers in Vietnam from 1959, when the first judge advocate reported for duty in Vietnam, to 1975, when the last Army lawyer left Saigon. Its principal theme is that, as the Army developed new strategies and tactics to combat the guerilla war waged by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, Army judge advocates also discovered that the unconventional nature of the war required them to find new ways of using the law, and their skills as lawyers, to enhance mission success.
Judge Advocates in Vietnam identifies the men and women who deployed to Southeast Asia; it looks at selected courts-martial, military personnel and foreign claims, legal assistance, administrative and contract law issues, and international law matters handled by those judge advocates. Mention of issues dealing with the My Lai incident is dispersed throughout the publication.
The My Lai Massacre: A Case Study. By Major Tony Raimondo, School of the Americas, Fort Benning, Georgia.
A 23 page outline of information about the My Lai Massacre for use by School of the Americas' instructors as part of the school's human rights program. The United States Army School of the Americas (USARSA), provides military education and training to the nations of Latin America. The case study covers the background of the My Lai incident, the causes of the My Lai Massacre, and addresses how the My Lai Massacre could have been prevented.
U.S. Army Chapalincy Oral History Program Transcripts
99 pages of Historical Office U.S. Army Chaplain School oral history interview transcripts. These two transcripts were produced in 1973 from tape-recorded interviews conducted as part of a project under the Chief of Chaplains to produce a history of the chaplaincy. Interviewed are Chaplain Major Harry P. Kissinger and Chaplain Colonel Francis R. Lewis. Chaplain Kissinger was the chaplain assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry and Chaplain Lewis was the Ameri-Cal Division chaplain. Both men are questioned about their knowledge and insight regarding the My Lai massacre transcripts. These two transcripts were produced in 1973 from tape-recorded interviews conducted as part of a project under the Chief of Chaplains to produce a history of the chaplaincy. Interviewed are Chaplain Major Harry P. Kissinger and Chaplain Colonel Francis R. Lewis. Chaplain Kissinger was the chaplain assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry and Chaplain Lewis was the Ameri-Cal Division chaplain. Both men are questioned about their knowledge and insight regarding the My Lai massacre.