Calley led one of Charlie Company’s three platoons and was responsible for numerous killings himself, was the only soldier convicted of a crime at My Lai. He was sentenced to life in prison but served only three days because President Richard Nixon ordered his sentence reduced.
This article examines what really happened in the “My Lai Incident,” or the “My Lai Massacre” as it is sometimes called. It will then look at the court-martial of Lieutenant Calley before discussing how the Army learned lessons from this tragedy, and took actions that not only ensured that there would be no more war crimes like My Lai, but also made the Army a more ethical and professional institution. The result is that fifty years after My Lai, some genuine good has come out of a very dark episode in U.S. Army history.
In late 1969 Seymour Hersh broke the story of the 1968 My Lai massacre, during which US troops slaughtered more than 500 civilians in Quang Ngai Province, far north of the Delta. Some months later, in May 1970, a self-described “grunt” who participated in Speedy Express wrote a confidential letter to William Westmoreland, then Army chief of staff, saying that the Ninth Division’s atrocities amounted to “a My Lay each month for over a year.”