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The Rights and Judgments of Vietnam Vets
The Rights and Judgments of Vietnam Vets
I have debated with myself for days as to whether I would take this challenge or not. My decision to came about from an assignment my daughter had in school and a documentary my husband recently watched. Due to the contents of this hub, I need to first warn you that it is not for the faint of heart.
My topic is about the human rights of Vietnam Veterans.
I am a child of a Vietnam Vet. I have watched over the years the downfall of my dad’s mental state from the things he experienced serving his time. I couldn’t comprehend his outbursts towards certain people while growing up, I just knew that there was a deep bitterness towards them. It was a topic he avoided unless he became depressed while drinking. Then, in those rare moments, he would tell a story of what he had seen or done.
My daughter last month (in November of 2010) was given an assignment in school to interview someone in the family that had served, or is serving in the military, to honor the vets for Veteran’s Day. She chose to interview my dad. I had to warn her before hand that the Vietnam War was viewed differently than others because of the actions of soldiers serving in that war. It was hard to explain to her that a soldier returning from serving in Vietnam was spit upon, ridiculed, and considered a baby killer. There were no open armed welcome with banners and flags flying. I wasn’t even sure what my dad would share with her or even if he would. Many of her classmates were having problems getting interviews from their grandparents that also served in Vietnam. They wanted to protect them from the horrors of war. This only fueled my daughter’s interest into why it was such a taboo subject.
This is where the documentary my husband was watching became part of the conversation.
The True Experience of My Lai
Earlier this year (2010) a documentary came out called “The True Experience of My Lai.” It gave a detailed account of a massacre cover up from the Vietnam War.
In December of 1966, 140 members of a company called the Charley Company began training under Captain Ernest Medina. Captain Medina came up with the idea that the Charlie Company would be known as the Death Dealers. Their trademark being the placement of an Ace of Spades upon the diseased VC.
While training, Charlie Company was voted the best company in the Twentieth Battalion. Lieutenant William Calley was the leader of the first platoon, under Captain Medina. Lieutenant Calley was a person that was always trying to please Captain Medina, resulting in Captain Medina’s resentment of him. Lieutenant Calley let the rank of platoon leader go to his head.
In December of 1967 Charlie Company arrived in Vietnam ready for war. They were surprised and taken back as their first month was spent in free-time and hanging with the locals. They had set up the image that American’s weren’t killers. In their second month, they were sent to Task Force Barker. Task Force Barker was known as a free fire zone. (Free Fire was the constant round of bombing of villages.) The soldiers were caught off guard as they encountered hostility from the people they thought they were saving. Reality of the war set in with every booby trap, mine and sniper round.
The soldier’s mindset changed as they tried to adapt to losing men. Everyone and everything became the enemy. Hatred set in till the rule book was tossed out, resulting in the pillaging of the villages. Immoral and unimaginable acts began to play out as the lack of discipline became lax. It was reported that Captain Medina had no interest in knowing the details of the soldiers misbehavior.
The Charlie Company was led to believe by officials, as they marched the terrain, that they would be meeting head on with the enemy around the My Lai area. It was determined by soldiers that Colonel Henderson wound up Captain Medina, who in turn wound up Lieutenant Calley, to face the enemy. Revenge was on the mind of the soldiers fighting the unseen enemy. Orders were made and plans set. They were to kill it, burn it, and poison it. It was assumed that there were no civilians. If they were there they were considered the enemy and supporters of the VC. Captain Medina felt certain Charlie Company would be facing the VC’s and supporters of the VC. He never questioned his orders. In the Army, the motto was “Follow Me.”
That next day would go into the history books as the biggest cover-up of its time.
Troops were ready for anything. They wanted to prove themselves as a fighting unit. They went in expecting great resistance. Little did they know that their enemy was miles across the other side of the map. Charlie Company was ordered to go in quick and aggressive. As radio chatter claimed the helicopters were taking fire, the company hit the ground firing at anything that moved. They had assumed that only the VC’s were present and the villagers were gone. It took one person to open fire on a civilian for the chaos to begin. The devastation was catastrophic. Interviews with the villagers described in great detail the horror of being on the receiving end of an army full of anger, frustration, and following orders. Kill or be killed. Photos were taken by an army combat photographer. The slaughter was heartbreaking.
Helicopter pilots and gunners patrolled the area looking for resistance. Seeing non, they watched in dismay as the bodies of citizens began to pile up in the roadway. One pilot, Hugh Thompson, lingered by and marked the body of a young injured woman with a chest wound. They watched as a captain approached the woman. Kicking her, he stepped back and blew her away. The men in the helicopter were astonished at what they had just witnessed.
Eventually orders of cease fire were given. Lieutenant Calley’s platoon took charge of moving the bodies. The remaining citizens were herded to a ditch on the East side of town. Helicopter pilot Thompson confronted a soldier to help the citizens out. The soldier remark was we will help them out of their misery. Giving Charlie Company the benefit of the doubt, Pilot Thompson didn’t want to believe the soldiers were needlessly killing the citizens.
Lieutenant Calley then gave the order to soldier Paul Meadlo to kill the remaining citizens. Meadlo having a strong sense of duty and trained to follow orders, open fire. Lieutenant Calley yelled at another soldier to help, but the soldier turned and walked away.
Surviving villagers gave their account of that horrific day as some leaped into the ditch, hiding under loved ones as bullets whizzed by. Many watched their family die with no way or hope of helping them. The soldiers became desensitized as they followed the orders of their leaders.
Pilot Thompson couldn’t take it anymore and recruited others to help save the villagers. Orders were given to the helicopter gunmen to shoot anyone who fired upon them. Pilot Thompson and three others took it upon themselves to fly the villagers to safety at a nearby hospital. One villager gave his account of the fear he felt as he lie in a ditch surrounded by blood and seen the Americans walking toward him to help him.
A cover-up began immediately after the cease fire took affect. By the time the soldiers returned to camp, Captain Medina had radioed in forced figures of the enemy killed. The cover-up was constituted within hours. Captain Medina ordered the soldiers talk to no one or answer questions. That included the media.
Pilot Thompson reported to Colonel Henderson what went on that day. Another gunman did the same. Pilot Thompson became upset when no action was taken by his superior officer. He was then sent on dangerous missions by himself. He began to believe that he was to be eliminated.
A Commander’s Analysis claimed, “This operation was well planned, well executed, and successful. Friendly casualties were light, and the enemy suffered a hard blow.” They denied killing any citizens. Charlie Company was sent to disappear into the jungles for 54 days without a change of cloths. Many fell sick. Others began to think they were sent there to die. The company changed as they began to believe that no one cared.
One year later, a journalist was visiting with friends from the Charlie Company. He had been hearing rumor about that fateful day. Upon the mention of Pinkville, the journalist made inquiries into the truth behind the rumors. The cover-up was being exposed. As rumors of the cover-up climb the ladder, the machinery of justice started to clamp down on the members of the Charlie Company still enlisted. An investigation was inevitable once the army combat photographer sold the photos from the war showing the dead bodies of men, women and children.
Defending the actions of the soldiers of Charlie Company from the orders given were near impossible as the people protested, outraged by the now deemed baby killers. When the Secretary of the Army was question as to whether he thought there was a cover-up in My Lia, he answer that he didn’t see a reason there was. Other officials in the investigation were shocked. It was obvious that those in power who could have done something didn’t. Those in power who knew something, ignored it.
Charges were made against:
Colonel Henderson- charged with dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime, and false swearing
Major McKnight- charged false swearing
Major Calhoun- dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime
Captain Kotouc- maiming
Colonel Parson- dereliction of duty, failure to obey lawful regulations
Captain Medina- assault with a deadly weapon, premeditated murder
Lieutenant Calley- premeditated murder
The soldiers of Charlie Company to this day firmly believe that they were following orders. Some soldiers went to war believing it was a necessary war. They were going to free these people from communism. That idea changed the longer they stayed and fought. Many are still haunted by their actions to this day. Each one was taught to follow orders and not doing so resulted in punishment. The motto became “Kill or be killed.” There was no tolerance for disobeying orders.
Lieutenant Calley served four months for his charges. Charges against the other officers resulted in in acquittals or were dismissed. Pilot Thompson was awarded a metal for his bravery.
Vietnam and American victims are still suffering the effects of Agent Orange
My husband and I have raised our children to face the realities of the world. It isn’t always a happy go lucky place. To better understand the mindset of soldiers and what is expected of them, we had them watch this documentary. After watching this video, I sat back in awe.
I could see now why my dad had avoided talking about the war for years. Although he was not a part of the Charlie Company, he admits to doing things he regrets, but he lived by the code "survival of the fittest".
I sat and listen to my dad describe a few of the things he experienced to my daughter. I have a clearer understanding why he is so bitter…drinking to drown out the memories.
He tells my daughter that he didn’t ask to go kill these people. He was drafted...placed in a position where he had no choice. He wept as he told her you couldn’t trust anyone. He watched as a four year old child blew up his friends (the soldiers) with a grenade. Survival was the first thing on a soldier’s mind.
He pulls out a year book and points out the friends he lost to snipers, booby traps, Agent Orange and mines. He recalls coming home and being told he couldn’t get a job because he was a vet. He tells her about the disrespect and prejudice they faced.
He tells her that...in order to keep from repeating history, one must learn from their mistakes.
I walked away from that conversation with a deep respect for those that had tried to do what they thought was best.