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My Lai massacre hero dies at 62

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4589486.stm My Lai massacre hero dies at 62 Hugh Thompson Jnr, a former US military helicopter pilot who helped stop one of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2006
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4589486.stm

      My Lai massacre hero dies at 62

      Hugh Thompson Jnr, a former US military helicopter
      pilot who helped stop one of the most infamous
      massacres of the Vietnam War has died, aged 62.

      Mr Thompson and his crew came upon US troops killing
      civilians at the village of My Lai on 16 March 1968.

      He put his helicopter down between the soldiers and
      villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow
      Americans if they attacked the civilians.

      "There was no way I could turn my back on them," he
      later said of the victims.

      Mr Thompson, a warrant officer at the time, called in
      support from other US helicopters, and together they
      airlifted at least nine Vietnamese civilians -
      including a wounded boy - to safety.

      He returned to headquarters, angrily telling his
      commanders what he had seen. They ordered soldiers in
      the area to stop shooting.

      But Mr Thompson was shunned for years by fellow
      soldiers, received death threats, and was once told by
      a congressman that he was the only American who should
      be punished over My Lai.

      A platoon commander, Lt William Calley, was later
      court-martialed and sentenced to life in prison for
      his role in the killings.

      President Richard Nixon commuted his sentence to three
      years' house arrest.

      Lobbying

      Although the My Lai massacre became one of the
      best-known atrocities of the war - with journalist
      Seymour Hersh winning a Pulitzer Prize for reporting
      on it - little was known about Mr Thompson's actions
      for decades.

      In the 1980s, Clemson University Professor David Egan
      saw him interviewed in a documentary and began to
      campaign on his behalf.

      He persuaded people including Vietnam-era Secretary of
      State Dean Rusk to lobby the government to honour the
      helicopter crew.

      Mr Thompson and his colleagues Lawrence Colburn and
      Glenn Andreotta were finally awarded the Soldier's
      Medal, the highest US miltiary award for bravery when
      not confronting an enemy.

      Mr Thompson was close to tears as he accepted the
      award in 1998 "for all the men who served their
      country with honour on the battlefields of South-East
      Asia".

      Mr Andreotta's award was posthumous. He was killed in
      Vietnam less than a month after My Lai.

      Mr Colburn was at Mr Thompson's bedside when he died,
      the Associated Press reported.

      Mr Thompson died of cancer. He had been ill for some
      time and was removed from life support earlier in the
      week.
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