Hugh Thompson dead at 62.
The Atlanta native who later made his home in Lafayette, was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the U.S. Army’s highest award for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy, 30 years after the event. Thompson joined the U.S. Navy in 1961 and then the U.S. Army in 1966. He trained as a helicopter pilot. In 1968, he volunteered for duty that involved flying over Vietnamese forests to draw enemy fire and pinpoint the location of enemy troops. On March 16, 1968, he was flying on such a mission when he came across bodies of Vietnamese civilians outside My Lai. When he recognized that American troops were apparently shooting civilians, Thompson landed his OH-23 helicopter between the troops and civilians and confronted the American lieutenant in charge. When the lieutenant refused to listen to him, Thompson had his crew members, crew chief Glenn Andreotta and door gunner Colburn, cover him with the helicopter weapons and called in more helicopters to carry out 11 wounded Vietnamese. The crew members also received the Soldier’s Medal. Thompson was shot down five times during his time in Vietnam, the final time breaking his backbone. Thompson testified at the court martial hearings that resulted in the court martial of Lt. William Calley for the massacre of about 500 civilians at My Lai. According to chief My Lai prosecutor William Eckhardt, “Thompson put his guns on Americans, said he would shoot them if they shot another Vietnamese, had his people wade in [a] ditch in gore to their knees ... took out children, took them to the hospital .... flew back to headquarters [and] standing in front of people, tears rolling down his cheeks, pounded on the table saying, ‘Notice, notice, notice’ ... then had the courage to testify time after time after time.” In 1998 Thompson and Colburn returned to My Lai, where they met some of the villagers they had save, including a young girl whom they’d pulled from a mass of bodies.All you right-wing chickenhawks out there: this is what a real soldier does.