1/16/2006

Death of an American Hero

“Hero” is one of the most abused words in the English language, often applied to people who simply face some danger or who do well in sports or business. But the word really should be reserved for someone who – in the face of danger – does the right thing.

Hugh Thompson, who died on Jan. 6 at the age of 62 from cancer, was such a hero. In one of the darkest moments of modern American history – on March 16, 1968, in the Vietnamese village of My Lai – Thompson landed his helicopter between rampaging U.S. soldiers and a group of terrified Vietnamese villagers to save their lives.

Circling over the village, Thompson was at first uncertain what he was witnessing. A bloodied unit of the Americal Division, furious over its own casualties, had stormed into a hamlet known as My Lai 4.

Revenge-seeking American soldiers rousted Vietnamese civilians – mostly old men, women and children – from their thatched huts and herded them into the village's irrigation ditches.

As the round-up continued, some Americans raped the girls. Then, under orders from junior officers on the ground, soldiers began emptying their M-16s into the terrified peasants. Some parents used their bodies futilely to shield their children from the bullets. Soldiers stepped among the corpses to finish off the wounded.

But there also were American heroes that day in My Lai, including helicopter pilot Hugh Clowers Thompson Jr. from Stone Mountain, Georgia. After concluding that he was witnessing a massacre, he landed his helicopter between one group of fleeing civilians and American soldiers in pursuit.

Thompson ordered his helicopter door gunner, Lawrence Colburn, to shoot the Americans if they tried to harm the Vietnamese. After a tense confrontation, the soldiers backed off."

Via Gary at Easter Lemming.

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