VFP Gainesville Chapter 14

Veterans For Peace

My Lai and Hugh Thompson

This weekend the public is invited to the Matheson Museum, 513 E University Avenue to view the exhibit memorializing the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre. There will be time to take the exhibit in and a showing of WInter Soldier on Friday night and panels on My Lai on Saturday and on Cost of War on Sunday. For details go to the link below.

Hugh Thompson was a helicopter pilot in March 1968 flying cover for Charlie Company, the unit responsible for the massacre. His story is a lesson in many aspects of the costs of war both to civilians caught on a battlefield and to the soldiers in the field. Hugh Thompson was a hero in connection with My Lai but it took 30 years and many sacrifices along the way for the military and US government to acknowledge this. But Thompsons sacrifices were nothing like those made by the 3.5 million Vietnamese made during the VIetnam War. Read Hugh Thompson’s story on our blog:

Real American Hero’s: Hugh Thompson

“Support Our Troops,” “Freedom fighters,” “Heroes,” “Patriots.” Sound familiar? We hear these words and phrases. Some people see such language as patriotic; others see it as jingoism and war propaganda.

In Winter Soldier II, many soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan discussed acts and policies that, at first hearing, sound decidedly unheroic and unpatriotic. Some people would call these soldiers “traitors” and others would call them “heroes”.

So what is a real American hero? This article will examine that question and I hope you will respond with your own ideas about who are the “heroes” “patriots” and, yes, “traitors.”

one real American hero received death threats and was reviled by many when he came home from his tour in Vietnam. He was attacked and threatened by fellow soldiers and even a member of congress. Sounds like he must have committed some kind of atrocity, right? Read on and you will learn the story of Hugh Thompson, helicopter pilot.

Thompson was born in Atlanta in 1943 and grew up near Stone Mountain, Georgia. After a short stint in college he served first in the navy in a Seabee construction unit and then in 1966 he joined the Army and trained to fly helicopters. Warrant officer Thompson, known as an aggressive and exceptional pilot, flew a scout helicopter in Vietnam in 1968. This meant that he and his crew flew treetop level or below to draw fire from the enemy. Larry Colburn, Thompson’s gunner, described this technique as, “We were basically bait. ‘Please shoot at me so we can get the gunships or artillery on you.’ “

Thompsons Helicopter Crew

On March 16th, 1968 events conspired to put the 24 year old Thompson and his helicopter crew in the middle of a massacre of civilians from the Village of My Lai. The US was fighting a guerilla war in Vietnam where anyone could be the enemy or one of their supporters. The Vietcong, with support of the local population, controlled the nights, and American GIs who survived the nights controlled the battlefield by day. Charlie Company (Task Force Barker, 11th Brigade, Americal Division), known in the field by fellow soldiers as the “Butcher Brigade”, had recently watched 28 of their buddies killed by an unseen enemy. Every casualty was from booby traps, snipers and mines. The last booby trap killed a popular sergeant. Charlie Company was ordered into an area which included the village of My Lai, known as a North Vietnamese stronghold. Their officers, including Lieutenant William Calley, told them “This is what you’ve been waiting for — search and destroy — and you’ve got it.”

As Thompson and his crew approached the village they began to see large numbers of civilians heading slowly down the road from My Lai on their weekly trek to the Saturday Morning market. Thompson reported, “The first thing we saw was a draft-age male running south out of the village with a weapon and I told him ( the gunner) to get him. He tried, but he was a new gunner — he missed him. That was the only enemy person I saw that whole day.”

He then described the next events: “It didn’t take very long until we started noticing the large number of bodies everywhere. Everywhere we’d look, we’d see bodies. These were infants, two-, three-, four-, five-year-olds, women, very old men, no draft-age people whatsoever.”

But Thompson and his crew could not bring themselves to believe that their fellow soldiers were killing these civilians. They hypothesized that an artillery strike had hit the villagers. Then they saw movement among the victims and got on the radio and marked them with smoke for rescue. A few minutes later they watched from the air as an American captain walked up to one of the wounded they had just marked for rescue. He took out his gun and “blew her away”. Charlie Company shot every wounded villager they had marked for rescue.

Sometime later they saw unharmed civilians, an old man, women and children described by Colburn as “little kids with Prince Valiant haircuts, black bangs, black pajamas and sandals,” huddled by a bunker. Thompson made a decision and landed his helicopter between the advancing American GIs and the civilians. He approached the ground units and asked, “Can you get them out?” They said, “Well, we’re gonna get them out with a hand grenade.” He said, “Just hold your people right here please, I think I can do better.” Thompson ordered his crew to shoot if the squad attacked the civilians. Colburn describes this delicate situation as a shouting match that appeared to be escalating towards a fight between Thompson and Charlie Company Lt. Brooks. ” Glenn (the crew chief) and I looked at each other. We looked at the GIs we were supposed to protect, we looked at Thompson. A million things were going through my mind. The first thing, I wanted no one to think I was going to raise an M60 machine gun and draw on them. Or they’d draw on us. I remember pointing my muzzle straight at the ground so there’d be no mistake. We had a little stare-down but I caught one guy’s eye and I kinda waved, thinking, hey, fellow American, and he waved back. “

Thompson coaxed the civilians out of the bunker, keeping his body between them and Lt. Brooks, and brought them over to his helicopter. He then got on the radio with the gunship that was piloted by his buddy and asked them to shuttle the civilians to safety. It was unheard of to use a gunship for Medivac but they did it that day twice to get all the Vietnamese to safety behind the lines.

On their way out of the village they again saw movement among the bodies in the ditch. They landed and Glenn, the crew chief brought a small child out of the ditch and handed him up to Colburn who said, “The child sat on my lap, limp. He had that blank thousand-yard stare. I couldn’t even make him blink. He was in severe shock. He had no broken bones, no bullet holes, but he was completely drenched in blood. When Glenn picked him up, he was still clinging to his dead mother.” They delivered the child to Quang Ngai hospital, an orphanage. They assumed at the time that he was only 4 or 5, but when they met him again in 2001 they found he had been 8 years old and, after staying at the hospital for 2 days, he left and went back to the village, 10 miles through the jungle, to make sure his parents were properly buried.

The photo shows Thompson, Colburn, Do Hoa, the boy they rescued from the ditch and Colburn’s son Conner during a visit to Vietnam in 2001.

Thompson briefed his commanding officers on his experiences and heard no more from them until Seymour Hersh broke the story of My Lai two years later. At that point Thompson testified to the Senate, the Department of Defense and for all the court-martials. Back in Vietnam shortly after My Lai, reports of murder and mistreatment of Vietnamese civilians passed across the desk of an Army Major in Thompson’s unit named Colin Powell. His investigation of these charges that included a detailed letter about the My Lai incident, reported that “relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.” Powell went on to become a 4 star general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Bush and Clinton and held high public office in the Nixon and Bush administrations. He was involved in more cover-ups in Iran Contra and the lead up to the war in Iraq.

The photo shows Thompson, Colburn, Do Hoa, the boy they rescued from the ditch and Colburn’s son Conner during a visit to Vietnam in 2001.

After My Lai, Hugh Thompson flew the remainder of his Vietnam tour as a scout without gunship cover. He was hit by enemy fire eight times and shot down four times. The last crash left him with a back injury that ended his duty in Vietnam. After recovering he trained helicopter pilots in the States. He eventually received a commission and retired from the military in 1983.

Thompson waited through 30 years of abuse from fellow soldiers and the public for recognition for his courageous stand. In 1998 He accepted the Soldier’s Medal with tears in his eyes “for all the men who served their country with honor on the battlefields of South-East Asia.” Professor David Egan at Clemson University, who had served a French village during World War II where Nazi troops killed hundreds of civilians, led the campaign to get Thompson recognition. Thompson, who died of cancer in 2006, lectured on battlefield ethics at West Point and other military academies during the last years of his life. He and His crew’s actions became an example used in military manuals in both the US and Europe. West Point Dean Col. Tom Kolditz described his impact: “There are so many people today walking around alive because of him, not only in Vietnam, but people who kept their units under control under other circumstances because they had heard his story. We may never know just how many lives he saved.” When asked what he told the Military Officer Cadets, Thompson said he just told them to “Be a soldier”.

So, Thompson is a real American hero in many people’s eyes. But, what about the men in Charlie Company? What does this story make of them? Certainly their immediate leadership appeared weak and even encouraged the atrocities that occurred. We know little of the actions of the senior officers. Evidence against them during the court-martial of their subordinates was contradictory or missing. Perhaps it too got lost on the desk of Major Colin Powell.

Colburn, the gunner on Thompson’s helicopter in My Lai, gives his perspective on life in combat: “Only 10 percent of men who go to war actually feel the sting. Most men are in support. Other combat veterans know exactly what I mean. Unless you saw it, smelled it, lived it, you’re not capable of understanding.” He describes his own experiences in combat including some he regrets. Some of the men in Charlie Company refused orders and did not participate in the massacre, risking courts-martial for refusing to obey orders. One veteran from Charlie Company, Varnado Simpson, talked after the massacre about how once you start killing, it just got easier and easier, the training just kicks in. He was overcome with remorse and eventually committed suicide. None of the Company, even those who did not participate, came forward to report the crime during their tour. But remember they continued to serve in the field, depending for their lives on their fellow soldiers in Charlie Company. Colburn explains, “They didn’t get to fly into the sunset and sleep in a bed. They had to spend the nights out there when the VC came alive, and had to go on night mission and set up ambushes. I don’t know if I could have made it a year in the field.”

So who are the heroes now? And who are the traitors?

Mary Bahr, VFP Webmaster, Air Force Intelligence, Vietnam 1968-1969

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2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than service members – The Washington Post

Source: 2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than service members – The Washington Post

The truth here is that if you count civilian casualties overseas as well as in the US you will find that children’s deaths have always outweighed soldiers deaths. Bombing, dislocation, malnutrition, crossfire, contamination of the environment by chemicals and depleted uranium makes civilian deaths on average 10 times higher than soldier’s deaths. Especially since aerial bombing campaigns began with Guernica.

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Inside the U.S. Military Recruitment Program That Trained Nikolas Cruz to Be “A Very Good Shot” | Democracy Now!

Vets for Peace has long been concerned about the military presence in our schools. Recruiters visit with students at lunchtime every day, unduly influencing the decisions of vulnerable young people at a critical time in their lives. The fact that 13-year-old children are being trained to use automatic weapons echos the child soldiers whose recruitment we condemn in war zones in Africa and the Middle East.

The glorification of war in order to recruit our children to the military is not so much about the safety of American citizens as it is about the profitability of war for military contractors and the weapons industry including the NRA supported gun manufacturers and dealers.

Furthermore, the recruitment of male, mostly white killers is enabled not only by NRA policy but by every police killing where officers walk, every claim of immunity to the law by the elites, including those in public office and every dog whistle and outright white supremacist statement made daily. The toxic assumption our boys are taught by part of our culture is that males are entitled to act violently with impunity. This has led to an epidemic of violence, especially for those children without the love and support they need at home. That there is not more violence is a testimony to the fact that most American families are loving and supportive and raise amazing children. Unfortunately, the factors I mention above bred in militarism and its partner greed are increasingly leading to their deaths in schools across America. We must fight against these influences every day to protect our children. Let’s start with making sure every high school senior who turns 18 this year registers to vote and goes to the polls.

The Florida gunman, a 19-year-old white former student named Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, and was also part of a four-person JROTC marksmanship team at the school which had received $10,000 in funding from the NRA. For more, we speak with Pat Elder, director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in schools. He’s the author of “Military Recruiting in the United States.”

Source: Inside the U.S. Military Recruitment Program That Trained Nikolas Cruz to Be “A Very Good Shot” | Democracy Now!

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The empire Comes Home: Chelsea Manning’s View

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/19/chelsea-manning-interview-wikileaks-senate-maryland

You may have heard that Chelsea Manning, a whistle Blower who VFP has supported over the past few years is out of prison and has filed to run for the US Senate in Maryland.  Although we celebrate her release from prison, according to Manning, the US has changed in the years she was incarcerated.

 

Manning made the:

grim assessment, that even in freedom she was trapped within a prison, dawned on her as she walking one day through the streets of Brooklyn. The New York borough has a reputation for hipster cool, but she was shocked to see so many heavily armed police.

We forget how things have changed here because it has happened slowly. But the empire with its trappings of military equipment has come home.  The tanks and body armor and military weapons seen clearly at the Spencer event are on our streets every day and we often do not notice until our own whistleblower points it out.

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The Pentagon promised citizenship to immigrants who served. Now it might help deport them. – The Washington Post

The “enhanced screening” being implemented for delayed entry foreign nationals with needed skills has no exceptions and is not applied to US born troops even though they may also have a relative who worked for a foreign government or is foreign born. Since all their personal data is on file with the Pentagon these volunteers who hoped for citizenship through military service will be vulnerable to ICE.

The Pentagon is considering a plan to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 foreign-born recruits without legal immigration status, knowingly exposing them to deportation, a Defense Department memo shows.The undated action memo, prepared for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis by personnel and intelligence officials at the Pentagon and obtained by The Washington Post, describes potential security threats of immigrants recruited in a program designed to award fast-tracked citizenship in exchange for urgently need

Source: The Pentagon promised citizenship to immigrants who served. Now it might help deport them. – The Washington Post

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Shocking! Federal Prosecutors Apparently Lied About Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning | Law News

Now that the documents unavailable to defense lawyers during her trial have been obtained by the fOIA, it seems all those claims by the Feds about Manning endangering US war games were lies. The U.S. government repeatedly lied about the contents of a classified report about the impact of Chelsea Manning’s leak of U.S. diplomatic cables, that report now shows.

Source: Shocking! Federal Prosecutors Apparently Lied About Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning | Law News

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Cartoon: Life during (endless) wartime

This cartoon addresses many issues of endless war as it applies to the chemical weapons attack in Syria. But it misses the major point that no one seems to think it is important to find out exactly who is responsible for the chemical weapons. Even the Mainstream media is asking this question. see the link and comments after the cartoon.

Follow me on Twitter: @tomtomorrow. And please consider joining Sparky’s List!

Source: Cartoon: Life during (endless) wartime

Is this our Gulf of Tonkin for another war in the Middle east? An article in the Chicago Tribune examines the present day evidence about the chemicals used in the Syrian strike. Many questions remain and an investigation needs to be done before proceeding (too late for that!). Check out  the article below.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-syria-chemical-weapons-20170408-story.html

 

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Syria’s humanitarian crisis: three ways Trump could help | World news | The Guardian

The Guardian outlines how the US could help Syrians and it starts with welcoming refugees and ends with more foreign humanitarian Aid.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s harsh condemnation of the chemical attack in Syria this week, some of the world’s largest humanitarian groups outlined steps the White House could take to alleviate suffering in the region.

Source: Syria’s humanitarian crisis: three ways Trump could help | World news | The Guardian

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Washington’s Supreme Hypocrisy on Chemical Weapons and Civilian Deaths

Professor Juan Cole gives a history of US involvement in chemical weapons in the middle East. Although he includes the use of nucelar weapons in Japan, he omits mention of the largely classified use of chemical weapons “tested” in the Far East and the network of chemical weapons labs located in the US.

The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Army in Idlib is an atrocity and the pictures of dead children tug at the heart. But the outrage of American politicians inside the beltway about it draws on the myths of American exceptionalism and Alzheimer’s of the political memory. It is also very suspicious in that the loudest voices of sympathy are the ones closest to the US military industrial complex, which has been regretting the missed opportunity of a Syria War.

for a history of US involvement in chemical weapons read on at the link below.

Source: Washington’s Supreme Hypocrisy on Chemical Weapons and Civilian Deaths

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Demobilizing America: A Nation Made by War and a Citizenry Unmade By It

Tom Englehardts’ tale of the entanglement of America’s history with war and the question of whether we as a democracy can survive the next one.

In many ways, from its founding the United States has been a nation made by wars. The question in this century is: Will its citizenry and its form of government be unmade by them?

Much of VFP’s understanding of war comes from Vietnam. Englehardt decribes that experience as a launching point for the present day “American Foreign Legion” with approximately 800 bases around the World.

The Age of Demobilization

In the case of America’s wars, there’s a history that helps explain how we ended up in such a situation. It would undoubtedly begin with an American high command facing a military in near revolt in the later Vietnam years and deciding that the draft should be tossed out the window. What was needed, they came to believe, was an “all-volunteer” force (which, to them, meant a no-protest one).

In 1973, President Nixon obliged and ended the draft, the first step in bringing a rebellious citizen’s army and a rebellious populace back under control.  In the decades to come, the military would be transformed — though few here would say such a thing — into something closer to an American foreign legion.  In addition, in the post-9/11 years, that all-volunteer force came to shelter within it a second, far more secretive military, 70,000 strong: the Special Operations Command.  Members of that elite crew, which might be thought of as the president’s private army, are now regularly dispatched around the globe to train literal foreign legions and to commit deeds that are, at best, only half-known to the American people.

These activities have lead to the colonization of America by our own government. With fear and secrecy used to control the populace which once ended the war in Vietnam.

In these years, Americans have largely been convinced that secrecy is the single most crucial factor in national security; that what we do know will hurt us; and that ignorance of the workings of our own government, now enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy, will help keep us safe from “terror.”  In other words, knowledge is danger and ignorance, safety.  However Orwellian that may sound, it has become the norm of twenty-first-century America.

read the article at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/04/04/demobilizing-america-nation-made-war-and-citizenry-unmade-it

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