Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Into The Dark: The My Lai Massacre

In Living Color

For months, the appalling story of how a young Army Lieutenant and his platoon wiped out a village of civilians in Vietnam had been building across the nation. Rumors were heard by the press who later found that the Army was less than forthcoming about the event. News articles concerning My Lai were published in various newspapers but the story did not become mainstream for quite some time. On September 6, 1969, the Associated Press issued this brief, almost unnoticed news release:

"Fort Benning, GA (AP) An Army officer has been charged with murder in the deaths of an unspecified number of civilians in Viet Nam in 1968, post authorities have revealed. Col. Douglas Tucker, information officer, said the charge was brought Friday against 1st Lt. William L. Calley Jr., 26, of Miami, Fla., a two year veteran who was to have been discharged from the service Saturday."

After Calley was charged, the story began to pick up speed. More details about the massacre began to appear. Seymour Hersh, a freelance reporter, spent weeks investigating the twisting turns of the My Lai tragedy. In November of 1969, the story finally broke in dozens of papers across the country. Hersh's article, which appeared in the New York Times and later won a Pulitzer Prize, detailed the massacre as well as the Army's efforts to cover up the truth.

On December 5, 1969, Life magazine ran Haeberle's photos and erased any doubt of the stunning carnage that took place in My Lai. There, for the world to see, in bright unforgiving color, was the damning evidence of mass murder. The bodies of dozens of Vietnamese women and children lay frozen in time and history on the pages of Life. Dead babies lay next to their mothers; women with their clothes soaked in blood lay strewn upon some forgotten road; a little girl, seconds from death, stared into Haeberle's lens, her face a mask of terror and confusion. There was no mistake: something horrible, something evil, something beyond anything America had ever seen before, had happened in My Lai. And worst of all, there was the sickening feeling that American soldiers, the heroes of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, conquerors of the Third Reich and saviors of the free world, were responsible for the slaughter.

A child about to be shot (TIMEPIX)
A child about to be shot


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