Revisit the My Lai Massacre
March 16, 1968: Chasing an elusive enemy and beleaguered by gruesome casualties from anti-personnel mines and booby traps set by wily North Vietnamese soldiers, the 11th Brigade of Charlie Company led by Lt. William Calley marched into the village of My Lai, a subdivision of larger Son My. Eschewing strict protocol, motivated by hate, and incited by Calley, U.S. troops were given free reign to "search and destroy" in the village as retaliation for the many U.S. casualties. Reports were conflicting, and it was some months after the incident that anything was reported -- and even then, only by members of the press -- but more than 300 victims (some estimates say more than 500), mostly women and children, died that day in a flurry of disorder and mayhem. Calley himself supposedly sequestered a group of villagers and executed them in a ditch.
The incident was a sharp thorn in the side of U.S. military policymakers and fuel for fires of dissent and division in the United States. The My Lai Massacre, as it became called, was the beginning of the end of the war at home; the incident incited shouts of "baby killers" from antiwar protesters and brought the brutal reality of the war in Indochina to the attention of the U.S. public. The whole world began to question what many people asked from the start: "Is the U.S. doing more harm than good in Vietnam?" Calley was charged and convicted of murder, but he served only a few years before a successful appeal.
Today a large stone monument marks the ground where the atrocities occurred, and a number of small stelae stand in front of specific family homes. The sight is 10km (6 1/4 miles) northeast of Quang Ngai, capital of Nghia Binh Province, which is about halfway between Hoi An and Quy Nhon. There's a small museum with photographs. Many veterans groups and former war protestors make the pilgrimage here. You can arrange a tour from Hoi An or hire private transport out of Quy Nhon. Most trips visit the sight as a halfway stop between Hoi An and Quy Nhon, or make it a long day trip out of Hoi An (about 4 hr. round-trip). If spending the night in Quang Ngai, try the Petro-Song Tra Hotel (2 Quang Trung St.; tel. 055/382-2665) or the Central Hotel (784 Quang Trung St.; tel. 055/382-9999).
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