I'm Hugh Thompson.
I was a helicopter pilot that day, and I guess I was invited here
to tell you about a day of my life. That particular morning we
were to provide reconnaissance for a ground operation that was
going on in My Lai 4, which was better known to us as "Pinkville."
It was supposed to be a real big operation that day. I flew a
Scout helicopter covered by two gunships that flew cover for me,
and my job was to recon out in front of the friendly forces and
draw fire, tell them where the enemy was, and let them take care
was prepped with artillery prior to the assault, and we went in
right when the "slicks" ---the troop-carrying aircraft
that brought the Charlie company and Bravo company--- landed simultaneously
right in front of them. We started mak ing our passes, and I thought
it was gonna be real hot that day. The first thing we saw was
a draft-age male running south out of the village with a weapon
and I tol m to et him. He tried, but he was a new gunner--- he
missed him. That was the only enemy person I saw that whole day.
We kept flying
back and forth, reconning in front and in the rear, and 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. That's what you look for,
draft-age people. It came out in the interrogations that my crew
and myself went through. My gunner's big questions---were, "Were
there weapons that day?" There was not the first weapon captured,
to my knowledge, that day. I think a count has been anywhere from
two to four hundred, five hundred bodies--- it was that many.
I think that's a small count, including the three villages that
As we were
flying back around the civilian people, there was one lady on
the side of the road, and we knew something was going wrong by
then. Larry Colburn, my gunner, just motioned for her to stay
down; she was kneeling on the side of the road. We just ordered
her to stay down; we hovered around everywhere, looking, couldn't
understand what was going on. We flew back over her a few minutes
later and most of you all have probably seen that picture; she's
got a coolie hat laying next to her. If you look real close, some
odd object laying right next to her--- that's her brains. It's
We saw another
lady that was wounded. We got on the radio and called for some
help and marked her with smoke. A few minutes later up walks a
captain, steps up to her, nudges her with his foot, steps back
and blows her away.
We came across
a ditch that had, I don't know, a lot of bodies in it, a lot of
movement in it. I landed, asked a sergeant there if he could help
them out, these wounded people down there. He said he'd help them
out, help them out of their misery, I believe. I was . . . shocked,
I guess, I don't know. I thought he was joking; I took it as a
joke, I guess. We took off and broke away from them and my gunner,
I guess it was, said, "My God, he's firing into the ditch."
We'd asked for help twice, both times--- well actually, three
times by then, I guess--- every time that people had been killed.
We'd "help these people out" by asking for help.
we saw some people huddle in a bunker and the only thing I could
see at that particular time was a woman, an old man, and a couple
of kids standing next to it. We look over here and see them and
look over there and see the friendly forces, so I landed the helicopter
again. I didn't want there to be any confusion or something; I
really don't know what was going on in my mind then.
I walked over
to the ground units and said, "Hey, there's some civilians
over here in this bunker. Can you get them out?" They said,
"Well, we're gonna get them out with a hand grenade."
I said, "Just hold your people right here please, I think
I can do better." So I went over to the bunker and motioned
for them to come out, everything was OK. At that time I didn't
know what I was going to do, because there was more than three
or four there, more like nine or ten or something like that. So
I walked back over to the aircraft and kind of kept them around
me and called the pilot that was flying the low gunship and said,
"Hey, I got these people here down on the ground, and you
all land and get them out of here." So he agreed to do that,
which I think was the first time a gunship's ever been used for
that. There's enough of them there that he had to make two trips
and he picked them up and took them about ten miles or so behind
the lines and dropped them off.
A short while
later we went back to the ditch. There was still some movement
in there. We got out of the aircraft and Androtta, my crew chief,
walked down into the ditch. A few minutes later he came back up
carrying a little kid. We didn't know what we were gonna do with
this one either, but we all get back in the aircraft and figure
we'd get him back to the orphanage or hospital back over at Quang
Ngai. In examining him in the aircraft that day, the kid wasn't
even wounded, or we didn't see any wounds, I'll put it that way.
He was covered with blood, and the thought was going through my
mind and my crew's mind, "How did these people get in that
up with about three scenarios, one of them being an artillery
round hit them, you wipe that out of your mind 'cause every house
in Vietnam, I think, has a bunker underneath it. If artillery
was coming there, they would go to the bunker; they wouldn't go
outside in the open area. Then I said, well, when artillery was
coming, they were trying to leave and a round caught them in the
ditch while they were going for cover. I threw that one out of
my mind. Then something just sunk into me that these people were
marched into that ditch and murdered. That was the only explanation
that I could come up with.
child to the hospital was a day I'll never forget. It was a very
sad day, very mad day, very frustrated and everything. So later
in the afternoon, (this was brought up when everything hit and
became public during interrogations, the Department of the Army
IG was asking me about the incident and I had totally blocked
it out of my mind. I had no idea what this guy was questioning
me for), after the mission that day, I went back to our operations
area, which is over in LC Dottie and I was very upset. I was very
to my platoon leader. He said let's go see the operations officer.
In turn we went to our commander and the words were said for me
that day that, you know, dean this up. "If this damn stuff
is what's happening here," I told him, "You can take
these wings right now 'cause they're only sewn on with thread."
I was ready to quit flying.
was very interested. Within a day or so--- I don't think it was
that day, it was probably the next day--- we were called up to
the command bunker at LC Dottie and everybody gave their statements.
This was a full colonel (a full colonel is next to a general);
that means he can walk on water. He was very interested it seemed;
I remember him taking notes and that was it, I do believe. I don't
know if I was called again to report to the commanding general.
one thing in my mind that I think, but I can't be positive. Our
two units were like sixty miles away. So we didn't have contact
with these ground people every day. A lot of people don't understand
that sixty miles into Vietnam is a long way away You just don't
go there. I guess I assumed something was being done. It wasn't
a colonel's position to come down to a Wl and inform him of his
investigation, that just was unheard of. It seemed like it was
just dropped after that.
two years later is when it was broke publicly and that's when
all the investigations started. I was called before the US Senate,
the Department of the Army IG and for every one of the court-martial
investigations. They appointed Lieutenant General Peers to investigate
this. I honestly think the Army thought they had a 'yes-man' when
they got Lieutenant General Peers and found out when he released
his final report that he was not a "yes-man." I think
he made a fairly accurate report of what happened that day.
too, as everybody says, there was a cover-up and everybody's talked
about that the cover-up started on the ground. In my mind, I'm
not real sure that's where the cover-up started. I would not be
the least bit surprised if this cover-up started "up"
and worked its way all the way back down.
It was probably
one of the saddest days of my life. I just could not believe that
people could totally lose control and I've heard people say this
happened all the time. I don't believe it. I'm not naive to understand
that innocent civilians did get killed in Vietnam. I truly pray
to God that My Lai was not an everyday occurrence. I don't know
if anybody could keep their sanity if something like that happens
all the time. I can see where four or five people get killed,
something like that. But that was nothing like that, it was no
accident whatsoever. Pure premeditated murder. And we're trained
better than that and it's just not something you'd like to do.