Lt. William Calley - driving another wedge in the Vietnam discussion.
Lt. William Calley – driving another wedge in the Vietnam discussion.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – The Lt. Calley Case – NBC Radio – April 8, 1971 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

In what was one of most widely publicized and discussed episodes of the Vietnam War came in the form of an incident which took place at the village of My Lai in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. A unit of the U.S. Army’s 11th Infantry Brigade, under the command of Lt. William Calley reportedly massacred between 300 and 500 inhabitants of the village. The incident didn’t come to light until a year later when, during a TV interview one of the soldiers admitted an incident took place, but “not more than 10 or 11 persons were killed”. It created an uproar throughout the Military and triggered an investigation which finally led to the court martial trial of Medina and the charging of several soldiers in the unit (who were, all but Medina, acquitted).

The incident stirred up a hornets nest of controversy. Many blamed the military for creating a Monster; in that the constant portrayal of Vietnamese as either Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers led to the indiscriminate killing. Others blamed Calley for being a rouge soldier with an urge to kill. Still others blamed the nature of the Vietnam War itself for creating killing machines among U.S. troops.

The trial resulted in a life sentence without parole for Medina. But President Nixon intervened and the sentence was reduced to 20 years and further reduced to 10 and finally Medina was paroled in 1974.

But what this incident did was further agitate an already sensitive issue – and it further divided the nation, with those wanting to end the war gaining in mass numbers. It also triggered a number of other investigations which caused the Military to look at what was extremely low morale among the troops, an alarming addiction rate and an increased frustration over a war now deemed swathed in total confusion.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, news outlets began running discussions on the My Lai controversy and the status of the War in Vietnam – and like the incident and the war itself, it drew a widely divided opinion over what exactly America was doing in Vietnam.

As a reminder that America has always been embroiled in one controversy or another, here is that program The Lt. Calley Case: Some Questions from NBC Radio News, April 8, 1971.

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2 thoughts on “The Lt. Calley Case – April 8, 1971

  1. Thank you for the fascinating and valuable historical audio documents you post.
    Regarding this post, it is important to not forget that such atrocities occur time and time again in war, as young people who normally would have no interest in killing anyone are trained that the enemy is subhuman, barbaric, and deserves to die, then go to experience the dangers and tensions of the battlefield, forced to obey without question, and turn into killing automatons.
    It should be pointed out that there are a number of inaccuracies in the above description of the My Lai massacre and its aftermath. Calley was subjected to a court martial, sentenced to life imprisonment, rendered by Nixon to house arrest from armed custody during his appeal to the court, and his conviction was upheld twice. His sentence was reduced to 20 years, then after 3.5 years under house arrest, he was paroled in 1974 by Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway. Medina was acquitted in his trial, afterwards admitting had lied about details of the mission. Captain Kotouc and Colonel Henderson were also court-martialed but found not guilty, and 2 generals were (slightly) demoted and/or censured. See the Wikipedia article “My Lai Massacre” for details.

    1. Thanks so much for the words and the information. Whatever stimulates people to read more, discover more and understand more is crucial. It’s that thing about not learning from mistakes of the past and being doomed to repeat them that we have to be reminded of. Thanks again.

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