Hugh Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006)
Thompson exhibited the highest level of heroism that day in March 1968. At personal physical risk, tepping in to stop an atrocity and leading his younger subordinates to follow him.
One of his men, Glenn Adroetta (October 30, 1947 – April 8, 1968), only lived a few weeks after that day. Another casualty of that unnecessary war.
The third hero, Lawrence Colburn (July 6, 1949 – December 13, 2016) made it all the way to four days ago. He and Thompson remained lifelong buddies.
Reflect for a moment on how young these three men were that day. Respectively twenty-four, twenty, and eighteen. Thompson also reported the massacre to his superiors. Those that were older and more experienced who proceeded to do their best to cover it up.
There was also a whistle-blower. Ronald Lee Ridenhour (April 6, 1946 – May 10, 1998). (A role that wasn’t as thankless back then as it has become today with those on the left, right, and center expressing loathing for such people.)
Specialist 5 Ronald L. Ridenhour, a former door gunner from the Aviation Section, Headquarters Company of the 11th Infantry Brigade, sent a letter in March 1969 to thirty members of Congress imploring them to investigate the circumstances surrounding the “Pinkville” incident.
Most recipients of Ridenhour’s letter ignored it, with the exception of Congressman Mo Udall and Senators Barry Goldwater and Edward Brooke. Udall urged the House Armed Services Committee to call on Pentagon officials to conduct an investigation.
When this massacre made its way to the RealNews (as contrasted with the earlier FakeNews: On March 16, 1968, in the official press briefing known as the “Five O’Clock Follies”, a mimeographed release included this passage: “In an action today, Americal Division forces killed 128 enemy near Quang Ngai City. Helicopter gunships and artillery missions supported the ground elements throughout the day.” and Colonel Henderson issued a Letter of Commendation to Captain Medina on March 27, 1968.)
Thompson was vilified by many Americans for his testimony against United States Army personnel. He recounted in a CBS 60 Minutes television program in 2004, “I’d received death threats over the phone…Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up.”
(It should be noted that the “Alt-right” back then wasn’t a majority view. In real time the majority is usually silent. Waiting to be told by someone of high stature which way they should go.)
There was one “by the books” senior officer that figured into the aftermath of the massacre, Lt General William R. Peers (June 14, 1914-April 6, 1984) (A Major General on that day in 1968.)
The Army had Lieutenant General William R. Peers conduct the investigation. [Ordered by Westmoreland] He conducted a very thorough investigation. Congress did not like his investigation at all, because he pulled no punches, and he recommended court-martial for I think 34 people, not necessarily for the murder but for the cover-up.
Some were indicted and trials held. Only one served some time, under house arrest for three and a half years. All but one were disgraced in some way. Whether or not they lived happily after that day, they all lived or are living more years than the heroes did.
General William C. Westmoreland (March 26, 1914-July 18, 2005)
Brigiadier General Samuel W. Koster (December 19, 1919-Janary 23, 2006) (demoted from Major General).
Colonel Oran Henderson (Aug. 25, 1920-June 1998)
Captain Ernest Medina (August 27, 1936–)
Second Lieutenant William L. Calley, Jr. (June 8, 1943–)
General Colin Powell (April 5, 1937–) (Only a Major on that day in 1968.)
There are many lessons to be learned from this very sorry tale. Unfortunately, we Americans not only don’t seem to be learning but appear to be regressing.
Thank you Mr. Colburn for your service that day in 1968 and in the months and years after as you spoke truth to power and doing the right thing.