This morning I watched a shattering 60 Minutes piece I had not seen before. It was a 1998 interview with Hugh Thompson, Jr., who died yesterday of cancer--he was 62.
Thompson was the Army helipcopter pilot in Vietnem who, upon realizing that a massacre was taking place at My Lai, landed his helicopter and tried to rescue the Vietnamese civilians being murdered by American troops. When a lieutenant leading some of the ground troops refused to allow Thompson into a bunker to save its occupants--children and elderly villagers--Thompson did something unimaginably brave. He told the lieutenant he was going in anyway. He asked his younger crew mates, Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, to shoot the Americans if they fired.
Thompson and his crew managed to save 10 people that day. To do so they had to train their guns upon their own countrymen. Andreotta was killed in combat three weeks later, but Thompson and Colburn lived to testify at the My Lai courts-martial. For this they were long reviled as turncoats.
The 60 Minutes piece was re-aired this morning to honor Thompson's memory. I'm sure a lot of you were familiar with him already, but I am ashamed to say that before this morning I never knew his name. In the piece, Thompson and Colburn return to My Lai on the 30th anniversary of the massacre. At one point a very old woman approaches them, and makes it known that she was there, lying in the ditch, surrounded by corpses. Why, she asks through a translator, why were they killed? And why was Thompson different from the other Americans? Thompson cries and tells her that he doesn't know. He tells her he's so sorry. Later, two of the women saved from the bunker sit with Thompson and Colburn as the interview continues--one woman clutches Colburn's hand and he returns her grasp. It's devastating.
Colburn, left, and Thompson with two of the women they saved