March 29

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Mar 29, 1971:

Calley found guilty of My Lai murders

Lt. William L. Calley is found guilty of premeditated murder at My Lai by a U.S. Army court-martial at Fort Benning, Georgia. Calley, a platoon leader, had led his men in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, at My Lai 4, a cluster of hamlets in Quang Ngai Province on March 16, 1968.

The unit had been conducting a search-and-destroy mission to locate the 48th Viet Cong (VC) Local Force Battalion. The unit entered Son My village but found only women, children, and old men. Frustrated by unanswered losses due to snipers and mines, the soldiers took out their anger on the villagers, indiscriminately shooting people as they ran from their huts. The soldiers rounded up the survivors and led them to a nearby ditch where they were shot.

Calley was charged with six specifications of premeditated murder. During the trial, Chief Army prosecutor Capt. Aubrey Daniel charged that Calley ordered Sgt. Daniel Mitchell to "finish off the rest" of the villagers. The prosecution stressed that all the killings were committed despite the fact that Calley's platoon had met no resistance and that he and his men had not been fired on.

The My Lai massacre had initially been covered up but came to light one year later. An Army board of inquiry, headed by Lt. Gen. William Peers, investigated the massacre and produced a list of 30 people who knew of the atrocity, but only 14 were charged with crimes. All eventually had their charges dismissed or were acquitted by courts-martial except Calley, whose platoon allegedly killed 200 innocents.

Calley was found guilty of personally murdering 22 civilians and sentenced to life imprisonment, but his sentence was reduced to 20 years by the Court of Military Appeals and further reduced later to 10 years by the Secretary of the Army. Proclaimed by much of the public as a "scapegoat," Calley was paroled in 1974 after having served about a third of his 10-year sentence.

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