On the 16th March 1968, US soldiers from Company C of the Americal Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade committed the My Lai Massacre. Commanded by Lieutenant William Calley, the troops killed between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in hamlets around the South Vietnamese village of Son My. The massacre was covered up by senior officers, but was revealed to the public in November 1969 by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
The troops were taking part in a search and destroy mission by Task Force Barker that aimed to wipe out the 48th Viet Cong Local Force Battalion that was believed to be hiding in the area. Captain Ernest Medina had told them that any person found there should be considered a member of the Viet Cong or a Viet Cong sympathiser, and as such should be killed. The victims were almost exclusively women, children and old men who were rounded up and brutally murdered.
The soldiers arrived by helicopter at around 7.30am, and the first killings took place barely half an hour later. It continued until 11am, when Captain Medina ordered a ceasefire. Not a single shot had been fired back at the Americans, and although there were members of the company who had not taken part in the attacks they did not intervene to stop them.
A helicopter crew piloted by Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr. did, however step in to save some civilians from the massacre and reported what he had seen to his superiors. However, a court martial did not begin until 1970, after the scale of the killings had been revealed in the press.