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January 16, 2006
Chat Participant: What happened when you flew over My Lai that day?Next,
"We thought they had about 30 seconds before they'd die," recalls Colburn. Thompson landed his chopper between the troops and the shelter, then jumped out and confronted the lieutenant in charge of the chase. He asked for assistance in escorting the civilians out of the bunker; the lieutenant said he'd get them out with a hand grenade. Furious, Thompson announced he was taking the civilians out. He went back to Colburn and Andreotta and told them if the Americans fired, to shoot them. "Glenn and I were staring at each other, dumbfounded," says Colburn. He says he never pointed his gun at an American soldier, but he might have fired if they had first. The ground soldiers waited and watched.Thompson:
"I was very upset at that time, and I thank God to this day that they stood where they were, and didn't prevent me from attempting to do what I was doing. I would hate to think about what could have happened or might have happened. I do thank the good Lord many times that they remained at ease."Then:
Thompson coaxed the Vietnamese out of the shelter with hand gestures. They followed, wary. Thompson looked at his three-man helicopter and realized he had nowhere to put them. "There was no thinking about it," he says now. "It was just something that had to be done, and it had to be done fast." He got on the radio and begged the gunships to land and fly the four adults and five children to safety, which they did within minutes.Years later:
Chat Participant: Do you think that the atrocities committed at My Lai where inevitable given the nature of the war in Vietnam?
Eventually he would be a most welcome guest speaker at the US Military Academies.
But for an indication of what his neighbors thought of him, here's a recollection from fellow Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman, one of his many contributions here:
An army warrant Officer helicopter pilot by the name of Hugh "Buck" Thompson was flying overhead of the incident that day. He saw what was going on. He reported the incident over his radio. And then he did something that should force every man and woman in uniform into deep reflection.
Buck landed his helicopter. He got into the face of men who were killing innocent people in whatever frenzied state of mind possessed them. And he personally put a stop to the infamous My Lai massacre.
Of course, the deep reflection that I mentioned is this: "Would I have had the courage to do what Buck Thompson did?" He might well have died in the very ditches where the Vietnamese died, killed by their same bloodied killers.
"Could I ever muster that level of courage in myself?" It's a question for all soldiers, in all wars. That includes you. It's a question that defines the term, courage, at every level. It's a term that keeps new My Lais from happening.
I'm proud to say I knew Buck. He was a captain when I met him, and a long-time Army neighbor of mine in post housing at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Truth be told, he was a bit of a rake, a Gus McRae-type straight out of "Lonesome Dove." He was a heavy smoker, hard drinker, fabulous storyteller. You know the type--once he got going on a story you never knew whether it was a joke or the truth until he got to the punch line. Every tale was a journey.
But the one tale he never told was that of his own courage at My Lai. That news leaked out of his wife Joyce's mouth under the influence at one of the neighborhood blended Margarita sit-arounds.
I had heard about the pilot who stopped the killing at My Lai. From the moment I knew this was Buck's story, I was awestruck. From then on, the word, courage, to my mind, was defined by Buck Thompson's action that day. Compared to him, I don't know even the meaning of the word.
Last week Buck Thompson died at age 62. Many who eulogize him in the media today declare him to be the exception, and the killers at My Lai the rule. A few stories note that he never received as much recognition or credit as he deserved. This last one is true.
For instance, none of those writers knew he was called "Buck".
Posted by Greyhawk / January 16, 2006 7:11 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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