Commencing early in the operation, commanders began receiving
reports of civilian casualties in My Lai (4). At about 0930 hours,
MG Koster was advised by COL Henderson that he had observed 6
to 8 such casualties. The figure was increased when LTC Barker
reported to Henderson during the afternoon that the total was
12 to 14, and was further increased to 20 in a report Barker made
that evening. This last report was relayed to MG Koster at about
1900 hours. None of these reports was entered in unit journals
or reported outside the Americal Division.
2. Observations and Complaints by Aviation Personnel
One element which provided combat support to TF Barker on 16
March was an aero-scout team from Company B, 123d Aviation Battalion.
A pilot of this team, W01 (now lLT) Hugh Thompson, had been flying
at a low altitude over My Lai (4) during the morning hours and
had observed the actions of C/1-20 Inf. He became greatly concerned
over the "needless and unnecessary killings" he had
witnessed. He landed his helicopter several times to aid the inhabitants
and in an attempt to stop the killing.
Shortly before noon, W01 Thompson returned to LZ Dottie and reported
his observations to his company commander, MAJ Frederic Watke.
The complaints of WO1 Thompson were confirmed by other pilots
and crewmen who had also been over My Lai (4). The complaints
were expressed in most serious terms; those who were present heard
the terms "killing" and "murder" used freely
with estimates of the dead in My Lai (4) running over 100. Upon
receipt of this report, MAJ Watke went to the commander of TF
Barker and advised him of the allegations. Watke stated that Barker
then left for his helicopter, presumably to visit C/1-20 Inf.
Watke considered the matter was "in the hands of the man
who could do something about it" and took no further action
at that time. Later that day, he again encountered Barker who
advised him that he could find nothing to substantiate Thompson's
allegations. while Watke testified that he was convinced at the
time that LTC Barker was lying, he took no further action until
2200 hours that night when he reported to his battalion commander,
LTC Holladay, and related for the second time the substance of
what is hereafter referred to as the "Thompson Report."
3. The Order to Return to My Lai (4)
At about 1530 hours on 16 March, after receiving a second report
of civilian casualties, COL Henderson stated he became suspicious
and directed TF Barker to send a company back through My Lai (4)
to ascertain the exact number of casualties and the cause of death.
As the order was being transmitted to C/1-20 Inf by TF Barker,
it was monitored by MG Koster, the commander of the Americal Division,
who inquired concerning the reasons. After a brief explanation
by the CO of C/1-20 Inf, during which time MG Koster was advised
that 20-28 noncombatants had been killed, MG Koster countermanded
the order and directed that COL Henderson be notified. There were
no further efforts to make an on-site determination of the cause
or extent of the civilian casualties.
4. The Thompson Report Reaches Division Headquarters
Because of the late hour at which LTC Holladay received the report
from MAJ Watke, they waited until the following morning before
reporting to BG Young, an Assistant Division Connander. Watke
repeated his story, which both he and LTC Holladay agree contained
the allegations that there had been "lots of unnecessary
killing ... mostly women, children and old men" and that
a confrontation had taken place between personnel of aviation
and ground units; however, there is conflict as to the number
of casualties mentioned. LTC Holladay and MAJ Watke also agree
that BG Young was advised that the complaints made by Thompson
had been confirmed by other aviation unit personnel.
At about noon on the 17th, BG Young reported to MG Koster the
information he had received from MAJ Watke and LTC Holladay. There
is substantive disagreement in testimony between what BG Young
testified he received from Watke and Holladay and what the latter
two state they reported. BG Young stated he was not apprised of
any charge of indiscriminate or unnecessary killing of noncombatants.
He further stated that it was his impression the matter of majorconcern
was that there had been a confrontation between the ground forces
aviation unit, resulting from an incident in which noncombatants
had been caught in a cross fire between US and enemy forces.
BG Young contends that it was this lesser charge he brought to
MG Koster, who directed BG Young to instruct COL Henderson to
conduct a thorough investigation of the incident. MG Koster has
confirmed parts of BG Young's account of this conversation but
in a previous statement before the Criminal Investigation Division
(CID), MG Koster stated that he had been advised of some indiscriminate
shooting of civilians.
The Inquiry has concluded that the two general officers received
a muted version of the Thompson Report from Watke and Holladay,
but one that included the allegation that noncombatants had been
indiscriminately killed. Upon receipt of the report, it seems
most likely that they related it to the information MG Koster
had received from TF Barker the previous day, that 20-28 noncombatants
had been inadvertently killed. The information concerning noncombatant
casualties had not been forwarded outside of the Division, although
D4ACV and III MAF regulations required such action, or were the
new allegations reported to higher headquarters. Adopting a "close
hold" attitude concerning all information relating to this
matter, MG Koster directed BG Young to have COL Henderson investigate