50 Years Ago: 'Most Notorious Episode in Modern US Military History'

US soldiers slaughtered 504 unarmed civilians at My Lai
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 16, 2018 2:57 AM CDT
Vietnam Marks 50 Years Since My Lai Massacre
An American visitor looks at photos of My Lai massacre in front of a granite wall with 504 names of the victims in My Lai memorial site in Son My, Vietnam, Thursday, March 15, 2018.   (AP Photo/stfHau Dinh)

More a thousand people in Vietnam marked Friday's 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, the most notorious episode in modern US military history, with talk of peace and cooperation instead of hatred. On March 16, 1968, the American soldiers of Charlie Company were sent on what they were told was a mission to confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies, but met no resistance and over three to four hours killed 504 unarmed civilians, mostly women, children, and elderly men in My Lai and a neighboring community. Speaking at Friday's commemoration, provincial official Dang Ngoc Dung said My Lai was a typical case of "cruel crimes committed by aggressive and hostile forces" during the war. He did not mention the United States by name.

But Dung said Vietnam wants to set aside the past and befriend other countries to build a better future in which peace and happiness can thrive. The commemoration comes at a time when bilateral relations between the US and Vietnam are the strongest they've been since their normalization of relations in 1995.

  • Do Ba was 9 when US soldiers came to his house and rounded up his mother, three siblings, and himself and took them to a drainage ditch. His mother and siblings were among the 170 people killed there. Ba, wounded and buried under bodies, played dead. He was finally rescued by a US Army helicopter crew that landed amid the massacre and intervened to stop the killing. "Twenty years ago, I still harbored hatred against the American soldiers who killed my mother, brothers, and sister," he tells the AP. "But now after 50 years as Vietnam and the United States together developed their relations, people set aside their pain and suffering to build a better society."
  • Historian Duong Trung Quoc notes that as the event was organized a US aircraft carrier was making a friendly visit to a nearby port, the first since the war. "The war has ended and both nations have learned from its lessons," Quoc says. "The greatest outcome of the lessons is for two nations to come close together in friendship and shared responsibilities, for the benefit of the people in both countries."
  • Mike Hastie, a 73-year old retired nurse from Portland, Oregon, who served as a US Army medic in Vietnam's Central Highlands, was a visitor this week. He thinks many veterans do not come because they are ashamed to face the Vietnamese people. "It's just important that the My Lai massacre never be forgotten, because I think the greatest sin that we could commit would be to forget the 504 Vietnamese people who were murdered at My Lai," he says.
(Read more My Lai Massacre stories.)

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