Ron Ridenhour’s letter (29 March 1969) that began My Lai investigation

Ron Ridenhour, Ron Ridenhour’s letter to Congress and the Pentagon about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam29 March 1969. “In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai–the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War–bringing the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world.”

Excerpts from the letter:

[Pfc “Butch” Gruver] recalled seeing a small boy, about three or four years old, standing by the trail with a gunshot wound in one arm.  The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers.  He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw.  “He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand; he didn’t believe was happening.  Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of 16 (M-16 rifle) fire into him.”  It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter….

After hearing this account I couldn’t quite accept it.  Somehow I just couldn’t believe that not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism, but that their officers had ordered it….

What [Sargeant Larry La Croix] told me verified the stories of the others, but he also had something new to add.  He had been a witness to Kally’s gunning down at least three separate groups of villagers.  “It was terrible.  They were slaughtering villagers like so many sheep.”  Kally’s men were dragging people out of bunkers and hootches and putting them together in a group.  The people in the group were men, women and children of all ages.  As soon as he felt that the group was big enough, Kally ordered a M-60 (machine gun) set up and the people killed.  La Croix said that he bore witness to this procedure at least three times.    The three groups were of different sizes, one of about twenty people, one of about thirty people and one of about 40 people.  When the first group was put together Kally ordered Pfc. Torres to man the machine-gun and open fire on the villagers that had been grouped together.  This Torres did, but before everyone in the group was sown he ceased fire and refused to fire again.  After ordering Torres to recommence firing several times, Lieutenant Kally took over the M-60 and finished shooting the remaining villagers in that first group himself.  Sargent La Croix told me that Kally didn’t bother to order anyone to take the machine-gun when the other two groups of villagers were formed.  He simply manned it himself and shot down all villagers in both groups….

[Pfc Michael Bernhardt] substantiated the tales told by the other men I had talked to in vivid, bloody detail and added this.  “Bernie” had absolutely refused to take part in the massacre of the villagers of “Pinkville” that morning and he thought that it was rather strange that the officers of the company had not made an issue of it.  But that evening “Medina (Captain Ernest Medina) came up to me (“Bernie”) and told me not to do anything stupid like write my congressman” about what had happened that day.  Bernhardt assured Captain Medina that he had no such thing in mind.  He had nine months left in Viet Nam and felt that it was dangerous enough just fighting the acknowledged enemy….

The Sound of the Violin in My Lai. From Wikipedia: “The Sound of the Violin in My Lai is a short film that examines the history and legacy of the My Lai massacre, an incident of the Vietnam War in which hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were massacred by U.S. Army soldiers.” This documentary was directed by Tran Van Thuy and was released in November 1999.