Bouncing around the radio yesterday, I heard this story that is part of a certain book. It has been at least a decade since I thought about a true officer.
On March 16, 1968, Chief Warrant Officer Thompson and his two crewmen were flying on a reconnaissance mission over the South Vietnamese village of My Lai when they spotted the bodies of men, women and children strewn over the landscape.
Mr. Thompson landed twice in an effort to determine what was happening, finally coming to the realization that a massacre was taking place. The second time, he touched down near a bunker in which a group of about 10 civilians were being menaced by American troops. Using hand signals, Mr. Thompson persuaded the Vietnamese to come out while ordering his gunner and his crew chief to shoot any American soldiers who opened fire on the civilians. None did.
Mr. Thompson radioed for a helicopter gunship to evacuate the group, and then his crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, pulled a boy from a nearby irrigation ditch, and their helicopter flew him to safety.
Mr. Thompson told of what he had seen when he returned to his base.
"They said I was screaming quite loud," he told U.S. News & World Report in 2004. "I threatened never to fly again. I didn't want to be a part of that. It wasn't war."
Mr. Thompson remained in combat, then returned to the United States to train helicopter pilots. When the revelations about My Lai surfaced, he testified before Congress, a military inquiry and the court-martial of Lt. William L. Calley Jr., the platoon leader at My Lai, who was the only soldier to be convicted in the massacre.
When Mr. Thompson returned home, it seemed to him that he was viewed as the guilty party.
"I'd received death threats over the phone," he told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" in 2004. "Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up. So I was not a good guy."
On March 6, 1998, the Army presented the Soldier's Medal, for heroism not involving conflict with an enemy, to Mr. Thompson; to his gunner, Lawrence Colburn; and, posthumously, to Mr. Andreotta, who was killed in a helicopter crash three weeks after the My Lai massacre.
If you only have a few minutes, please listen to this via NPR:
Better, take time for this series from USNA.