16
Mar
08

On This Day, 3-16-08: My Lai

My Lai massacre takes place in Vietnam

On this day in 1968, a platoon of American soldiers brutally kill between 200 and 500 unarmed civilians at My Lai, one of a cluster of small villages located near the northern coast of South Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. troops frequently bombed and shelled the province of Quang Ngai, believing it to be a stronghold for forces of the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, or Viet Cong (VC). In March 1968, a platoon of soldiers called Charlie Company received word that Viet Cong guerrillas had taken cover in the Quang Ngai village of Son My. Led by Lieutenant William L. Calley, the platoon entered one of the village’s four hamlets, My Lai 4, on a search-and-destroy mission on the morning of March 16. Instead of guerrilla fighters, they found unarmed villagers, most of them women, children and old men.

The soldiers had been advised before the attack by army command that all who were found in My Lai could be considered VC or active VC sympathizers, and told to destroy the village. Still, they acted with extraordinary brutality, raping and torturing villagers before killing them and dragging dozens of people, including young children and babies, into a ditch and executing them with automatic weapons. The massacre reportedly ended when an Army helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, landed his aircraft between the soldiers and the retreating villagers and threatened to open fire if they continued their attacks.

The events at My Lai were covered up by high-ranking army officers until the following March, when one soldier, Ron Ridenhour, heard of the incident secondhand and wrote about it in a letter to President Richard Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and various congressmen. The letter was largely ignored until later that year, when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh interviewed Calley and broke the story. Soon, My Lai was front-page news and an international scandal. In March 1970, an official U.S. Army inquiry board charged 14 officers, including Calley and his company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, of crimes relating to My Lai. Of that number, only Calley was convicted. Found guilty of personally killing 22 people, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced to 20 years, and eventually to 10. Seen by many as a scapegoat, Calley was paroled in 1974 after serving just one-third of his sentence.

“My Lai massacre takes place in Vietnam.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Mar 2008, 12:37 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=52554.

1190 – The Crusaders began the massacre of Jews in York, England.

1521 – Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines. He was killed the next month by natives.

1621 – Samoset walked into the settlement of Plymouth Colony, later Plymouth, MA. Samoset was a native from the Monhegan tribe in Maine who spoke English. He greeted the Pilgrims by saying, “Welcome, Englishmen! My name is Samoset.”

1802 – The U.S. Congress established the West Point Military Academy in New York.

1850 – The novel “The Scarlet Letter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was published for the first time.

1883 – Susan Hayhurst graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. She was the first woman pharmacy graduate.

1926 – Physicist Robert H. Goddard launched the first liquid-fuel rocket.

1935 – Adolf Hitler ordered a German rearmament and violated the Versailles Treaty.

1939 – Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

1964 – Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were reinstated to the NFL after an 11-month suspension for betting on football games.

1978 – Italian politician Aldo Moro was kidnapped by left-wing urban guerrillas. Moro was later murdered by the group.

1998 – Rwanda began mass trials for 1994 genocide with 125,000 suspects for 500,000 murders.

First liquid-fueled rocket

The first man to give hope to dreams of space travel is American Robert H. Goddard, who successfully launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, on March 16, 1926. The rocket traveled for 2.5 seconds at a speed of about 60 mph, reaching an altitude of 41 feet and landing 184 feet away. The rocket was 10 feet tall, constructed out of thin pipes, and was fueled by liquid oxygen and gasoline.  “First liquid-fueled rocket.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Mar 2008, 12:44 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6838.

Goddard’s research goes largely unnoticed in the United States, however Wernher von Braun, a young German scientist, would continue Goddard’s research, developing the German V-2 rocket during World War II.  After World War II von Braun went to work for the United States, making an instrumental contribution to US efforts to land a man on the moon.

Germany during World War II developed many rocket type weapons.  Pictured below is the JB-2 (Loon) an American copy of the German V-1 surface to surface pilot-less rocket.  The V-1 rocket was used to terrorize London and later Antwerp after the Allies had landed in France and pushed toward the German border.  The second picture is a wire-guided missile dubbed the Fritz-x — officially known as Ruhrstahl SD 1400 by the Germans.  The Germans hoped to use the Fritz-x against Allied warships and developed the smaller Henschel Hs 293 for attacking merchant vessels.  The HS 293 struck a devastating blow against Allied war efforts when one missile attack sunk the HMT Rohna.  Of the 2000 military personnel on board the Rohna 1138, of which 1035 were Americans, perished.  The US military did not want the Germans to know how successful their attack had been so the story was classified “top secret” and not released to the public until 1967.  For more information about the Rohna disaster please see: http://www.rohna.org/

V-1

Missile

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
– Albert Einstein

The story is that Albert Einstein’s driver used to sit at the back of the hall during each of his lectures, and after a period of time, remarked to Einstein that he could probably give the lecture himself, having heard it several times.
So, at the next stop on the tour, Einstein and the driver switched places, with Einstein sitting at the back, in driver’s uniform.
The driver gave the lecture, flawlessly. At the end, a member of the audience asked a detailed question about some of the subject matter, upon which the lecturer replied, ‘well, the answer to that question is quite simple, I bet that my driver, sitting up at the back, there, could answer it…’

“I want to know God’s thoughts,….. the rest are details..” — Albert Einstein

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1 Response to “On This Day, 3-16-08: My Lai”


  1. March 17, 2008 at 12:24 am

    For a really compelling look at the full range of global troubles (down thru the present day, including Iraq and Kosovo, even the Vietnam war!!) spawned by the Treaty of Versailles, do check out my wonderful new book — “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today” [www.ashatteredpeace.com] just published by Wiley and available from Amazon.com and most bookstores!
    Best,
    David A. Andelman
    david@ashatteredpeace.com


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