by Chris Bodenner
[Calley] did not try to deny what had happened on that March 16th, 1968, but did repeatedly make the point, which he has made before, that he was following orders. [...] I asked him for his reaction to the notion that a soldier does not have to obey an unlawful order. In fact, to obey an unlawful order is to be unlawful yourself. He said, “I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them - foolishly, I guess.” He said that was no excuse, just what happened.
Calley had been sentenced to life imprisonment, but Nixon quickly pardoned him. Calley's commanding officer, Ernest Medina, was not even found guilty, despite damning accounts such as this:
While the killing continued, an armed observation helicopter piloted by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson patrolled overhead. Several times that morning, Thompson and his two-man crew had attempted to aid civilians by marking their location [for medics] and radioing for help. Speaking about the incident years later, Thompson recalled one occasion in which a young woman lay injured in a rice paddy. "We got on the radio and called for some help and marked her with smoke," he said. "A few minutes later up walks a captain, [Medina] steps up to her, nudges her with his foot, steps back and blows her away."
Confused by what was taking place on the ground, Thompson continued to observe the scene from above. He then spotted some soldiers heading towards a group of villagers who had just fled into a bunker. Against orders, Thompson landed his helicopter between the two groups and stepped out to confront the men. "Hey, there's some civilians over here in this bunker," Thompson recalled. "Can you get them out?" One soldier replied, "Well, we're gonna get them out with a hand grenade." Thompson told them to stay put while he evacuated the villagers. He then instructed his door gunner to shoot any American solder who fired upon the civilians.
Thompson called in one of his gunships, which then evacuated nine injured civilians. Transporting a wounded child pulled from the irrigation ditch, Thompson flew back to the 11th Brigade headquarters at Duc Pho. He immediately reported the incident to his commanding officer, Major Fred Watke, who then relayed the message back to the battlefield. Soon afterward, Medina ordered an immediate cease fire in the village, and the killing stopped.
Thompson's heroism and moral clarity was unparalleled - and you don't need a Hollywood script to find it.