Lieutenant William Calley
Commanding the first platoon of soldiers towards the village of My
Lai in Vietnam was Lieutenant William Calley. At the time I don't think
Lieutenant Calley knew what lied ahead for his future. But as it came there
was things that happened in My Lia that morning and Lieutenant Calley would
later stand accused of the mass murders of over a 100 people.
The year was 1968 when he entered the little village of My Lia. Lieutenant
Calley had only been in the Army for almost 2 years. Calley had numerous
jobs before entering the Army at all of them he wasn't the best graduating
High school basically at the bottom of his class. He finally decided to
try to become an Officer in the Army. His training began in Fort Benning,
Georgia this happened in March of 1967. When the training was over Calley
did graduate but nearly at the bottom of his class. But sense this was
the war at Vietnam they needed all the officers and enlistees they could
get otherwise he may have been dropped out of the Military.
He was stationed in Hawaii for a while and assigned to the 11th Light
Infantry Brigade. From there he was sent to Vietnam. Then age 24 he led
his platoon of soldiers on an attack on the village of My Lai.
Although there was many different stories told about what had happened
in My Lia there was one fact that none could deny, That was a fact disputed
by no one. And that is the fact that there was no armed resistance had
occurred, and almost all the people of My Lai were dead by noon of that
dreadful morning. There is not an exact number for those Vietnamese that
died but it has been estimated at more than 400 died in My Lai. All the
buildings, houses, shacks were all burnt to the ground. Every animal had
been killed. And the people responsible for this were the ones in the uniform
that were there to save the Vietnamese from there enemies had wiped a little
village called My Lai off the map.
For a very long time the My Lai situation had been covered up in one
way or another but when the truth came out it shocked all of the people
on this earth. But before that all the war in Vietnam went on as bad as
ever. Lieutenant Calley still remained in command of his platoon and was
even promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant. His unit still fought in
Vietnam, They conducted assaults on the Viet Cong , search and destroy
Missions, Patrols, and well all other very dangerous missions. When Calley's
tour was over in Vietnam he Volunteered to stay for an additional year
and reassigned to a company of Army Rangers.
By then of course My Lai had become a thing of the past there was one
soldier who thought about it a lot though that was Ronald Ridenhour. He
although hadn't taken part or wasn't even near the My Lai event although
had heard rumors about it. And these rumors had really got him curious.
He asked a lot of questions of the men who had been there and everything
had pointed to one conclusion that was there was a terrible war crime that
had been committee at My Lai.
Ridenhour gathered as much information he could about the event and
when his military time was over he began to right the Army, Department
of Defense and to members of Congress telling them in detail everything
he knew that occurred in My Lai.
The Army than decided to begin an investigation on Ridenhours acquisations.
And in June of 1969 Lieutenant Calley received orders to report back to
Washington D.C. In the connection with the investigation of what happened
in My Lai.
When he got back to washington he was questioned by Army Officers and
told that there was a chance that he may be charged with murder. Then he
was sent to Fort Benning once again to await the investigations outcome.
On September 4 only 2 days before his scheduled discharge from the Army,
Charges were filed against Lieutenant Calley. He was scheduled to a formal
hearing to be held in the office of the judge advocate general at Fort
Benning. Of course the results would not be hide from the public eye very
long. And soon the public knew all about the story. Every detail of the
slaughter of the women and children and even old people. The outcome of
the trial did not only affect those who were there at the My Lai but also
all those who had tried to cover it all up. Several Colonels and even some
commanding officers had tried in one way or another to cover My Lai all
William Calley the center of the whole mess in My Lai he is the one
who gave the troops the orders to be carried out. Calley in the end was
formally charged with murder in the first degree. When it was all said
and done he was accused of murdering AT LEAST 102 Vietnamese civilians
at My Lai including a 2 year old baby.
The Court Martial which Calley was to stand trial for murder was to
begin November 17, 1970. The Law member who would serve as judge was Colonel
Reid Kennedy who was a career army lawyer. Calley's defense attorney was
a experienced civilian lawyer who's name was George Latimer.
In opening statements to the court-martial board Daniel (the Prosecution
lawyer) describe every gory detail of the My Lai. The story went as follows:
When Calley and his platoon arrived at My Lai
the only thing that they found was Old men women and children UNARMED.
no hostile fire coming at them. No Combat. Then he (Daniel) proceeded to
tell the story on how Calley prosecuted unarmed Vietnamese civilians.
After the conciliation of the opening remarks.
Daniel called his first witness Mr. Ronald Haeberle to testify. Ronald
took photos and was at My lai. A few of the Photos showed United States
Soldiers and the others showed a large pile of dead bodies in irrigation
ditches. Daniel called numerous soldiers to the stand those who were not
of Calley's platoon and found them saying there was no resistance from
this group of civilians and that Ronald's Pictures had been of some of
Next was the helicopter Pilot Hugh Thompson who
had witnessed some of the murders and who had saw some of the slaughtering
take place who said he immediately landed his helicopter to demand Calley
to stop the slaughtering which Calley refused. Thompson then took some
of the wounded into his helicopter and flew them out of My Lai all together
he made 3 rescue missions that morning. And his passengers alone were the
only ones to survive the mass murders.
At that point for Captain Daniel he was basically
establishing a foundation to let them know a little about the murders in
My Lai. Next he started phase two the calling of Lieutenant Calley's platoon
to the witness stand. The first one was Robert Maples he told how Calley
and a private first class was standing at a ditch (The same whole where
the people had been photographed) pointed into the whole and started firing.
He said that Calley then asked him to fire his machine gun and he refused.
Meadlo ( The private First class said to be at the ditch with Calley) was
to testify next. But He refused to testify. He had been released from the
army but was afraid of what may happen to him for what his part was at
My Lai. The Prosecution offered Meadlo immunity if he testified but he
still refused to testify and was released into military polices hands.
The next witness what Private Dennis Conti. He
testified that Lieutenant Calley ordered him to round out six women and
children which were near by. He said he took them to Calley and saw about
thirty or forty others there also. He then proceeded that the only G I
he remembered was Meadlo. They took them off and made them squat so they
couldn't get up and decide to run. he said Meadlo was guarding the people.
He also remembered Meadlo breaking down after a few shots and then Meadlo
handing him his gun. This was all based on Calley's orders.
Then called to the stand was Charles Sledge another
soldier in Calley's Platoon. He basically told the same story that Conti
had told. He although added that after the murders he had gone with Calley
to met with SSgt David Mitchell. SSgt David Mitchell was standing guard
of about 20 maybe 30 more people. Then Mitchell and Calley shoved the villagers
in the ditch with there rifles then proceeded to shoot them. They fired
into the crowd until Hugh Thompson (helicopter Pilot) interrupted. Then
Calley and Sledge walked to the Vietnamese priest. He folded his hands
and chanted no viet then Calley hit the priest across the mouth. He then
fell back a little then started to plead with Calley. Calley then shot
the man point blank and shot him in the head. Then Calley saw a child about
the age of two grabbed the child threw the child in the ditch and shot
Private first class James Dursi then proceeded
to the stand. He was guarding a different batch of citizens of My Lia.
Calley came down and stood where I was by the people. He said Meadlo was
crying. Calley told Meadlo they had another job to do and to kill the people
in the ditch. They then both started firing into the ditch.
That was the last of the prosecution rested its
case. Now it was the Defense counsels turn.
The prosecution interrupted before they could
get started and started to tell their story one more time. Paul Meadlo
had finally came to terms and decided to testify. Meadlo described to the
jury how he was watching a group of people they suspected of being part
of Viet Cong. And he testified that as far as he is concerned they were
and still are viet cong. He told the jury how he was ordered to shoot the
people and how Calley had helped Meadlo then described how Calley continued
to shoot people that others were guarding and how the others were just
looking on. When everything was said and done Meadlo was asked if Calley's
Commanding officer had ordered him to kill Meadlo then replayed I took
my orders from Calley But Captain Medina was there before the ditch and
I assumed everything was okay because if it wasn't I thought he would put
a stop to it.
The Defense then called Calley to the stand Not
to prove that these were not war crimes but that Calley's Commanding Officer
had commanded Calley to carry out these murders and Calley thought they
were fair and Just. In fact Calley's attorney was trying to state that
Medina should be the one on trial not Calley.
Calley was seen by three psychiatrists at walter
reed Hospital and found to be legally sane. Calley was then on the witness
stand and proceeded to say he didn't realize he was suppose to make sure
if a order was illegal or not he just knew to follow it through
Calley denied shooting the citizens that had
been said that he had earlier in the testimony
Calley however did not deny that his men had
shot the civilians. He said he did hit the man with the butt of his rifle
after the man refused to answer his questions. But refused that he ever
shot the man. He also denied shooting the small child until later he then
recanted his testimony and said he did shoot a small person who he did
not realize was a child until after he had pulled the trigger. He also
said he took the orders given to him and carried them out without regret.
Captain Madina arrived at Fort Benning with F. Lee Bailey (I think we all
know him) Madina was calm and cooperative on the witness stand but his
testimony certainly did not help Calley's case. He testified that there
may be some hostile people at My Lai when Calley's platoon arrive to be
ready. He continued to say he didn't order Calley to kill any Vietnamese
people what so ever. There was Calley's version and there was Madinas version
the exact truth may never be known.
The End of the court-martial came on March 16,
1971 three years to the day after Calley had led his troops to My Lai and
destroyed it. Calley's court-martial was the longest in American History
it lasted four months. The Jury took quite a while to come to a decision
and the decision was...........Lieutenant William L. Calley Guilty of premeditated
murder of 22 human beings. He was then sentenced to life in prison. And
taken from the court to the stockade. Later Nixon with popular demand from
the public reduced his sentence to only having to stay in his apartment
on base with total freedom. And then later reduced his sentence to twenty
years in prison. BUT later it was reduced even more to only ten. It so
happened that he only spent three in a half years in custody of his own
apartment he was released on Parole.
Famous Military Trials