“My Lai was a search and destroy mission and that’s what it means. . . . ” \(Charles Pho to by Ron Hae be r le My Lai It has been more than fifteen years since Lt. Calley led the First Platoon of the Americal Division’s Charlie Company into the small, rice-farming hamlet in search of the Vietcong. Calley and his men, all young, inexperienced, scared, entered the village sometime around 7:30 \(followed closely by the Second Platoon ticipating their first change to “close” with the enemy; their first face-to-face combat. They expected to find the VC 48th Battalion; what they found was a village filled with old men, women, children and babies, but no soldiers. They met no resistance, received no hostile fire. Yet by noon of that day, Calley, the men of Charlie and Bravo companies, and their commanding officers had secured for themselves a dark and troubling place in America’s history. Anywhere from 347 to over 500 unresisting Vietnamese civilians of all ages were killed at My Lai 4 and their village burned to the ground, all in a matter of a few hours. Twenty months later, the news of the massacre and its subsequent cover-up* by the military and the State Department shocked and sobered a nation already torn apart by Vietnam. Not only were we shocked by the vivid, full-page spread of pictures in Life, pictures of the bloodspattered bodies of men, women, children, and babies sprawled along dirt paths or stacked grotesquely in drainage ditches, but even more unsettling for Americans were the chillingly dispassionate voices of the foot soldiers who were there, detailing the killings for us each night on the evening news. Foot soldiers not much more than children themselves. These were after all, our sons, not the Japanese at Manila or the Germans at Babi Yar; these were our very own. Who were they? How did they happen to do what they were accused of, indeed what they seemed to be confessing to night after night? Was My Lai an aberration? An “isolated incident” as then President Richard Nixon liked to call it? Or was it in reality the real nature of the war in Vietnam? Most Americans found the latter hard *High ranking military and state department officials would stand accused by the Armed Services Investigating Committee in July, 1970 of “a concerted action . . . to suppress all evidence of [the massacre].” to accept during those deceptive times, and for those who investigated the massacre it became officially an “aberration.” Charges of murder, rape, assault, and maiming were brought against thirteen men, all lower echelon officers or enlisted men from the Americal Division’s 20th Infantry, Charlie and Bravo Companies companies which had been combined in 1967 into one unit called Task Force Barker. \(These thirteen were all the Army could find; most of the men who had been at My Lai 4 were discharged by 1969 and could no longer be charged with crimes committed overseas while they were on active duty. Only the government of South Vietnam could legally bring charges against those already discharged, but, even if the South Vietnamese government had wanted to, it couldn’t because the United States had no extradition treaty with South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese government never admitted that anything unusual happened at My Lai 4 and censored all news reports of the inBut for two men, one from Texas, the other from Louisiana, whose paths would probably never have crossed had it not been for My Lai, the massacre was no “aberration.” It was the real war, different only, they say, in the number of civilians killed at one time in ground combat assaults; and it was well planned. CHARLES EDWARD HUTTO, 34, of Monroe, Louisiana, was a 19-year-old sergeant in Charlie Company’s Second Platoon in March, 1968, who was charged, tried, and acquitted of crimes committed at My Lai. Jim Lane, of Fort Worth, was Hutto’s military defense attorney from late 1969 until 1971. Lane, now 39, was 24 years old when he was detailed to defend Sergeant Hutto. Both men recently talked publicly for the first time since the trial ended about My Lai and its effect on their lives, both then and now. Lane is angry and bitter, convinced the country has forgotten, not only the tragedy of the Vietnamese villagers who died at My Lai, but the tragic men of Charlie and Bravo companies who killed them, the “walking wounded” of Vietnam. Hutto is filled with pain and grief, still living with memories he can’t escape. He, too, believes the country has forgotten, and there is a tragic irony in that for Charlies Hutto he wants to forget and can’t. “He wasn’t shooting babies,” Lane said during the interview last summer in the recently restored 100-year-old home on Fort Worth’s old North Side where he has lived and practiced law since 1974. “He was shooting ‘gooks’ and `chinks’ and ‘slopes.’ We had dehumanized an entire group of people, 4 AUGUST 5, 1983
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