Year
1970

My Lai trial begins

The court-martial of 1st Lt. William Calley begins. Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division, had led his men in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, at My Lai 4 on March 16, 1968. My Lai 4 was one of a cluster of hamlets that made up Son My village in the northern area of South Vietnam.

The company had been conducting a search-and-destroy mission as part of the yearlong Operation Wheeler/Wallowa (November 1967-November 1968). In search of the 48th Viet Cong Local Force Battalion, the unit entered the 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 innocent people as they ran from their huts. They then systematically rounded up the survivors, allegedly leading them to nearby ditch and killing them.

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 rounded-up villagers. The prosecution stressed that all the killings were committed despite the fact that Calley’s platoon had met no resistance and that no one had fired on the men.

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

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 to 10 years by the Secretary of the Army. Proclaimed by much of the public as a “scapegoat,” Calley was paroled in 1974.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Verdi’s first opera opens

Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, debuts in Milan. The premiere was held at La Scala, Italy’s most prestigious theater. Oberto was received favorably, and the next day the composer was commissioned by Bartolomeo Merelli, the impresario ...read more

Suez Canal opens

The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red seas, is inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony attended by French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of ...read more

Elizabethan Age begins

Queen Mary I, the monarch of England and Ireland since 1553, dies and is succeeded by her 25-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth. The two half-sisters, both daughters of King Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary’s five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, ...read more

The Heidi Bowl

On November 17, 1968, the Oakland Raiders score two touchdowns in nine seconds to beat the New York Jets–and no one sees it, because they’re watching the movie Heidi instead. With just 65 seconds left to play, NBC switched off the game in favor of its previously scheduled ...read more

Nixon insists that he is not a crook

On this day in 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal that eventually ended his presidency, President Richard Nixon tells a group of newspaper editors gathered at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, that he is “not a crook.” Nixon made the now-famous declaration during a ...read more

U.S. establishes Fort Buchanan

On this day, the United States buttresses its control over the Gadsden Purchase with the establishment of Fort Buchanan. Named for recently elected President James Buchanan, Fort Buchanan was located on the Sonoita River in present-day southern Arizona. The U.S. acquired the bulk ...read more

Thousands die in massive flood

On this day in 1421, a storm in the North Sea batters the European coastline. Over the next several days, approximately 10,000 people in what is now the Netherlands died in the resulting floods. The lowlands of the Netherlands near the North Sea were densely populated at the ...read more

Washington, D.C., sniper John Muhammad convicted

On this day in 2003, ex-soldier John Muhammad is found guilty of one of a series of sniper shootings that terrorized the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area and dominated national headlines in October 2002. Police charged that Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd ...read more

A wealthy heiress is murdered by her son

Wealthy socialite Barbara Baekeland is stabbed to death with a kitchen knife by her 25-year-old son, Antony, in her London, England, penthouse. When police arrived at the scene, Antony was calmly placing a telephone order for Chinese food. Antony’s great-grandfather, Leo ...read more

SALT I negotiations begin

Soviet and U.S. negotiators meet in Helsinki to begin the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). The meeting was the climax of years of discussions between the two nations concerning the means to curb the Cold War arms race. Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency ...read more

Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee, begins

On this day in 1863, Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, under siege. After two weeks and one failed attack, he abandoned the siege and rejoined General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Knoxville campaign began in November ...read more

“Day One” for DaimlerChrysler on NYSE

On this day in 1998, the brand-new DaimlerChrysler began trading its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The company had formed five days earlier, when the American Chrysler Corporation merged with the German conglomerate Daimler-Benz AG. As a result of the merger, ...read more

Germans make last stab at Ypres

On November 17, 1914, the German 15th Corps makes a final, desperate attempt to advance against Allied positions in the Ypres Salient, the much-contested region in Flanders, Belgium. After advancing relatively quickly through Belgium and eastern France during the first weeks of ...read more