My Lai on the front page of The Plains Dealer.

Lt. Calley Apologizes for My Lai

THE NEW YORK TIMES August 24, 2009

An Apology for My Lai, Four Decades Later

By Robert Mackey

Lt. Calley at his court-martial at Fort Benning, Greorgia 1971.Last week,William Calley,the only American soldier to be held legally responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai in 1968 by a platoon under his command and,apologized for the first time.

Under the headline “An Emotional William Calley Says He Is Sorry,”Dick McMichael,a former television news anchor in Columbus, Ga.,broke the news last Wednesday on his blog:

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” William Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus today. His voice started to break when he added,“I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed,for their families,for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Mr. Calley,66,spoke just miles from Fort Benning, where he was convicted in 1971 of murdering “no less than 22 Vietnamese civilians of undetermined age andWilliam Calley at a Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Georgia last Wednesday. Photo A/P sex and assault with intent to murder one Vietnamese child,” during a three-hour raid on the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. The former lieutenant served just three years,largely under house arrest after his original life sentence was reduced by the Army.

Just before Mr. Calley was released in 1974,Linda Greenhouse reported in The New York Times that three months in a prison barracks had been “his only prolonged incarceration.” As Ms. Greenhouse wrote,powerful supporters intervened as soon as he was sentenced in 1971:

Three days after the conviction President Nixon ordered him released form the stockade at Fort Benning,Ga.,and placed under house arrest in a comfortable two-bedroom apartment. There he received frequent visits from a staff of secretaries and a steady female companion.

The goMy Lai, March 16 1968. Ronald L. Haeberle/Life Magazine, via Associated Press. The My Lai Massacre (pronounced Me Lye)  was the Vietnam War mass murder of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. It was committed by troops of Charlie Company 1st/20th 11th Light Infantry Brigade. Victims included women, men, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. Twenty six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only 2nd Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was sentenced to life in prison, but served only three and a half years under house arrest. In November 1969 Seymore Hersh exposed the incident, which prompted global outrage.  vernor of Georgia at the time,Jimmy Carter,called Mr. Calley a “scapegoat.” Ms. Greenhouse also reported:

In the days immediately following his conviction,there were public demonstrations on his behalf, and a song about him became a hit record. “My name is William Calley,I’m a soldier of this land,” the song began. “I’ve vowed to do my duty and to gain the upper hand. But they’ve made me out a villain, they have stamped me with a brand.”

200,000 copies of the record were sold in the three days Mr. Calley’s conviction. A few months later, the Times noted: “A Harvard survey of public attitudes toward First Lieut. William L. Calley Jr. has found that two-thirds of those questioned said that most people would shoot unarmed civilians if ordered to do so.”

Mr. Calley has refused to speak to the media for decades. His appearance at the Kiwanis Club was organized by Al Fleming,the incoming president of the chapter who has been friends with Mr. Calley for years. In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegal on Friday Mr. Fleming said that Mr.Men in Charlie Company gathered these women and children together. After the photo was taken, Army phototagrepher Ron Haeberle turned, and heard automatic gun fire. From the corner of his eye he saw all the bodies falling, before walking away.  Photo: Ron Heaberle Calley told the group “I did what they say I did,”but also maintained that he was following orders.The blogger who broke the story,Mr. McMichael,wrote that he asked Mr. Calley if obeying orders was really an excuse for the murders he committed. Mr. McMichael wrote:

I asked him for his reaction to the notion that a soldier does not have to obey an unlawful order. In fact,to obey an unlawful order is to be unlawful yourself. He said, “I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders,I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly,I guess.” He said that was no excuse,just what happened.

William G. Eckhardt,the chief prosecutor in the My Lai cases,who is now a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,told The Lede on Monday, “I think we ought to be clear that his statement is incredibly self-serving.” Mr. Eckhardt said that “the best polygraphic evidence I had” indicated that Captain Ernest Medina,who was Mr. Calley’s commanding officer did not issue an order for the platoon to execute civilians during the operation in My Lai.

After the massacre, which lasted several hours, Charlie Company rests.In an essay on the case published in 2000,Mr. Eckhardt wrote that Captain Medina,who was also charged with murder but ultimately acquitted,had “ordered his men to destroy all crops,to kill all livestock,to burn all houses, and to pollute the water wells of the village” but noted that there was “an important disagreement concerning his reported orders to kill non-combatants. Significantly, he gave no instructions for their segregation and safeguarding.”

On Monday,Mr. Eckhardt told The Lede that even if an order to kill civilians had been issued,Mr. Calley was still responsible for more than 200 murders.

Mr. Eckhardt’s essay,“My Lai,An American Tragedy,”as well as Mr. Calley’s testimony at his court-martial and an Army report on the massacre is available on a University of Missouri-Kansas City website devoted to the case.

The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh first reported the massacre in 1969.

Mr. Hersh’s original reports are collected in the book Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969-1975 (Library of America,1998).