Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Revolutionary Of The Week

Hugh Thompson ( 1943-2006)

Hugh Thompson Jr, born in 1943, had wanted to fly helicopters so bad that after serving 4 years in the Navy, he left his wife & 2 sons behind as he re-upped into the Army & trained as a helicopter pilot.

After training, Thompson was sent to Vietnam on December 27th, 1967. He quickly earned a reputation as "an exceptional pilot who took danger in his stride."

Michael Bilton & Kevin Sim wrote a book called " Four Hours at My Lai" in which they described Hugh Thompson as a "very moral man. He was absolutely strict about opening fire only on clearly defined targets."

On the morning of March 16th, 1968, Thompson's virtue would be put to the ultimate test. While flying his H-23 observation helicopter, 25 year old Thompson used green smoke to mark wounded people on the ground in & around My Lai. When he returned after he refueled, he found that the wounded he marked earlier were now dead. Lawrence Colburn, Thompson's gunner, couldn't even look at the gruesome sight.

After bringing his chopper to a standing hover, Thompson & his crew saw a young woman that they had previously marked with green smoke. As they watched, a U.S. soldier, wearing Captain's bars, "prodded her with his foot, then killed her."

Thompson did not know at that point that more than 500 Vietnamese had already been slaughtered by Lt. William Calley's Charlie Company. Thompson watched as U.S. troops chased Vietnamese civilians, & knew it had to be stopped.

Thompson bravely landed his helicopter between the charging GI's & the fleeing villagers. He ordered Colburn to turn his machine gun on the U.S. soldiers if they tried to shoot the unarmed men, women, & children villagers.

Thompson then jumped out of the helicopter into the combat zone & somehow coaxed the scared shitless unarmed civilians from a bunker they hid in. He evacuated them to safety on his helicopter, as he cried the whole way. He returned back to base, screaming his disgust.

Officially called an "incident", My Lai was widely accepted as an aberration. U.S. war crimes in Southeast Asia are too lengthy to detail, but in an area nearby to My Lai, called My Khe, another U.S. company killed close to 100 peasants. The village was flattened by fire & dynamite. A My Khe veteren later said, " What we were doing was being done all over." Another said, " We were out there having a good time. It was sort of like being in a shooting gallery."

But not Hugh Thompson. He risked so much that day to save innocent, unarmed villagers, & acted when seeing an injustice take place, regardless of the fact that it was his fellow Army guys. Thompson risked his job & his life.

Thompson was much later (1998) awarded with the Soldier's Medal, the highest U.S. military award for bravery when not confronting an enemy.

Colonel Oran Henderson, charged with covering up the My Lai killings said in 1971, "Every unit of brigade size has it's My Lai hidden someplace."

But not every unit had a Hugh Thompson. I wish there was a Hugh Thompson in Haditha, Iraq.

Thompson died of cancer at the age of 62 in January of this year.