Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Into The Dark: The My Lai Massacre

Charged With Murder

1st Lt William L. Calley Jr, 1969 (AP)
1st Lt William L.
Calley Jr, 1969

By all accounts ever published about Lt. William "Rusty" Calley, 24, he was an ordinary kind of guy. Raised in Florida, the son of a Navy veteran, he came from a stable background. He attended Palm Beach Junior College in 1963 but he did not receive a degree by the time he entered the Army. His grades were undistinguished and he flunked out "with grades in seven courses of two Cs, one D and four Fs." His desire for education, like a lot of other things in his young life, faded away and by 1964, he had stopped attending college altogether. Calley had no special talents, no record of deviant behavior and was considered a typical American. He was short in stature, just 5'3," neither good nor bad looking. A newspaper once referred to Calley as "the nice boy charged with murder." .

Ft Benning, basic training, group (CORBIS)
Ft Benning, basic training, group

Calley had many jobs before he entered the service. He worked for an insurance company as an investigator, a train conductor and washed cars at a car wash. He eventually drifted to San Francisco in 1966 where he lived for several months until he received notice from the Selective Service System. The letter said that his draft status was being reevaluated and he should report for a medical examination. Calley started the long drive back home in July, 1966. By the time he reached New Mexico, his car broke down. Calley had no money, no job and no way of getting back home to Miami. With the prospect of a limited and uncertain future staring him in the face, he stumbled into an Albuquerque recruitment center on July 26, 1966 and enlisted in the Army.

Insignia of the Americal Division
Insignia of the Americal

After he completed Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Calley was transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington to receive training as a clerk. Not thrilled with the prospect of becoming an Army clerk, Calley applied for Officer Candidates School (O.C.S.), a six-month training program that could promote a lowly ranked E-2 into the rank of a 2nd Lieutenant, an officer who could command a platoon of 30 men, or at certain times, a company consisting of 200.

Upon graduation from O.C.S. in 1967, Calley was dispatched to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii where he trained with the men of Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry. In early December 1967, the company, as a whole, was sent to Vietnam. "Charlie was really made for war! We were mean, we were ugly," Calley said of the men in his command. In Vietnam, they became part of the famed 23rd Infantry Division, also called the Americal Division, whose headquarters were in the sprawling base camp at Chu Lai on the windy shores of the South China Sea.

But soon, the consensus among members of Calley's platoon in Vietnam was almost unanimous: they did not respect him. One of his riflemen had this to say about Calley's abilities: "I wonder how he got through Officer's Candidate School. He couldn't read no darn map and a compass would confuse his ass." To some, he had the hostile insecurity of someone who felt that he was too short in stature. An infantryman in the 1st platoon said: "Calley is just gung-ho and has no common sense...because he is small he must have been pushed around all his life by bigger people. Once he got in the Army he found he had a lot of authority." Later, another soldier told the Army Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.) that Calley was so distrusted by members of his own unit that they offered a reward to whomever would shoot him. No one had any respect for him as a platoon leader. His own commanding officer, Captain "Mad Dog" Medina, a career Army officer, frequently ridiculed Calley in front of his own men. "The captain called him Lieutenant Shithead regularly," said another G.I. .

Insignia of the 11th Brigade
Insignia of the 11th Brigade

On the night of March 15, 1968, the men and commanders of Charlie Company gathered outside Captain Medina's "hooch". That very day, the company had a memorial service for Sgt. George Cox, a popular N.C.O. who was killed by a booby trap while on patrol near QL-1 the day before. The men were demoralized, angry and frustrated with an enemy that so far, had gotten the best of them.

Captain Medina briefed the company on the next day's assault on My Lai. What was said at this meeting and exactly what the orders were concerning the mission has remained in dispute. Some of those at the meeting say that Medina gave direct orders to kill all the civilians. "He (Medina) stated that My Lai #4 was a suspected VC stronghold and that he had orders to kill everybody that was in the village," testified Spec. 4 Max Hutson of the 2nd Platoon . Others disagreed. Pfc. Gregory Olsen remembered the briefing differently and testified to the Army C.I.D.: "Captain Medina would never have given an order to kill women and children." Whatever was said, and it is impossible to determine exactly what orders were issued, the men of Charlie Company saw the next day's mission as an opportunity to pay back the Viet Cong for their booby traps, their mine fields and the blood of the 11th Brigade.


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