My Lai hero deserves posthumous award

Bloggers note: This is a letter I intend to send to the below members of Congress. A few details have been omitted for publication due to my concerns over a confidentiality agreement I signed with a former employer. The omissions do not in any way change the message of my letter.

November 10, 2007

Honorable Mary Landrieu
724 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable David Vitter
516 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Honorable Dr. Charles W. Boustany, Jr.
1117 Longworth House Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Senators Landrieu and Vitter, and Rep. Boustany:

I am not a resident of Louisiana but I did grow up in Texas, about 10 miles as the crow flies from your border. I am writing on behalf of a late and great citizen of your state and who worked, in Rep. Dr. Boustany’s district in Lafayette. I am writing this on the eve of November 11, the actual Veterans Day, as opposed to the federal holiday on Monday. The person whom I am writing about is the late Hugh Thompson Jr., who was the hero of My Lai, the despicable massacre of Vietnamese villagers in 1968.

No doubt you are all aware of this humble, kind and heroic American. If you are not, then I don’t believe you need to be in Congress even though your constituents have the say about that. So, I am writing from the assumption that you are familiar with Chief Warrant Officer Thompson, who intervened during that terrible day in the history of the U.S.Armed Forces and the Vietnam war.

A helicopter pilot, CWO Thompson landed and faced down Lt. William Calley, the platoon leader who was convicted of leading a mass murder of Vietnamese civilians in the village known as My Lai (Calley’s sentence was later overturned). Afterwards, Hugh managed to evacuate Vietnamese who had been wounded during this sickening killing frenzy. If you are familiar with Hugh’s story, then you no doubt know about the saga that ensued years later when those who thought CWO Thompson should have been properly cited for his brave and most ethical act. He was justly awarded the Soldier’s Medal exactly 30 years after My Lai after these efforts by supporters.

After being harassed by the military for his whistle-blowing, not to mention members of Congress, Thompson worked for Louisiana’s veterans agency. He also wrote a book about his ordeal and spoke across the nation about this sad piece of American history. It was just prior to and during his visit to the place where I was a reporter who covered veterans issues that I interviewed Hugh and subsequently heard him speak about what happened that day in My Lai and afterwards with Congress and the military. Hugh didn’t seem to be bitter over what happened. Instead, he spoke of his experiences more as a cautionary tale when I interviewed him in February 2005 as a reporter. I later covered his talk at a local community college where two soldiers from the nearby Army post came to hear the “Hero of My Lai.”

A soldier who just returned from Iraq told me afterwards that Hugh’s lessons should be shared with both military and civilian.

Although Thompson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross — a decoration he said the Army gave him to shut him up — it took 30 years for supporters to get the U.S. Government to award him with the Soldier’s Medal.

Writing on the eve of Veterans Day 2007, I think the late Chief Warrant Officer Thompson deserves a higher award, perhaps even the Medal of Honor. I feel that his moral and ethical courage meets at least one prerequisite for the nation’s highest medal. Those requirements seek those who:

” …distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States … “

While not directly participating in combat, Thompson nonetheless flew into a situation that was believed to be part of an enemy operation. He did so at risk from the enemy who could have lurked anywhere around. He also found himself at odds with an armed and kill-happy group of his fellow soldiers.

The term “hero” is so easily conferred these days that if you even enlist in the military you are a hero. I enlisted at a time which was, technically, before our country’s final plunge into a hostile Vietnam in April of 1975, when the evacuation of Saigon took place. If the criteria for a hero is someone who merely serves in the military during wartime, then I guess that make me a hero by definition. But I certainly am no hero. And I even worked my way through college on the GI Bill as a professional firefighter after my enlistment expired in the Navy. Once I served that stint and graduated from college I still was no hero.

Although you all are congressional members who do not represent me, I ask that you do what is right for a real hero who lived in your congressional district and state which you all represent. Hugh Thompson Jr. should be awarded a higher medal for his courage above and beyond the call of duty in trying to end an illegal slaughter of old men, women and children in the My Lai village many long years ago.

Few people read my blog, on which I will post this letter.. But one never knows who might decide to drop in some day. Perhaps it will be someone from Louisiana.

Thank you for your service in government.

Dick of eight feet deep

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