January 6

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Jan 6, 1971:

Army drops charges of My Lai cover-up

The Army drops charges of an alleged cover-up in the My Lai massacre against four officers. After the charges were dropped, a total of 11 people had been cleared of responsibility during the My Lai trials.

The trials were a result of action that occurred in March 1968. During the incident, 1st Lt. William Calley, a platoon leader in the 23rd (Americal) Division, allegedly led his men to massacre innocent Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, in a cluster of hamlets in Son Tinh District in the coastal south of Chu Lai.

By 1971, charges were pending only against Lt. Calley, Capt. Ernest Medina, and Capt. Eugene Kotouc. On March 29, 1971, a Fort Benning court-martial jury found Calley guilty of the premeditated murder of at least 22 South Vietnamese civilians and sentenced him to life in prison. Kotouc was cleared by a court-martial on April 29, and Medina was acquitted on September 22.

On May 19, the Army disciplined two generals for failing to conduct an adequate investigation of My Lai, demoting Maj. Gen. Samuel W. Koster from two-star to one-star rank. At the same time, both Koster and Brig. Gen. George W. Young Jr., his assistant divisional commander at the time of the massacre, were stripped of their Distinguished Service Medals, and letters of censure were placed in their personnel files. The trials ended on December 17, when Col. Oren K. Henderson was acquitted of cover-up charges. He was the highest-ranking officer to be tried.

Of those originally charged, only Calley was convicted. Many believed that Calley was a scapegoat, and the widespread public outcry against his life sentence moved President Nixon to intervene on April 3, 1971. He had Calley removed from the Fort Benning stockade and ordered him confined to quarters pending review of his case. On August 20, Calley's life term was reduced to 20 years. In November 1974, a Federal Court judge ruled that Calley was convicted unjustly, citing "prejudicial publicity." Although the Army disputed this ruling, Calley was paroled for good behavior after serving 40 months, 35 of which were spent in his own home.

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