The bravest kind of hero Hugh C. Thompson Jr.: Public honor overdue for officer who bucked massacre at My Lai.

November 16, 1997

HUGH C. THOMPSON JR. was the bravest kind of hero. He did not merely risk his life by standing up against the enemy in Vietnam. He did something more difficult: He risked his life by standing up against an atrocity authorized by his superior.

The atrocity was the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in March 1968. The superior was Lt. William Calley. Warrant Officer Thompson saw the slaughter from his helicopter, set down his chopper, confronted Calley and saved a dozen cowering villagers and an injured child. Then he reported to headquarters and told commanders what he saw. Later, he testified against the soldiers who perpetrated the slaughter. Only Calley was convicted.

Hugh Thompson knew that morality must supersede loyalty and chains of command. He was not afraid to act on that knowledge.

Other decorated officers have paid tribute to Mr. Thompson's bravery. His actions have become a model for military ethics, included in training at the Air Force Academy and West Point. But the Army itself has never properly recognized him, an oversight that smacks of a proud institution's unwillingness to remind itself and the nation of one of its most horrendous mistakes.

Army officials finally have approved him for the prestigious Soldier's Medal for heroism, but even now one senses reluctance on their part to pay him tribute. It took nine years of lobbying by his admirers before the Army decided to award the medal. And today, 15 months after approval was granted, Mr. Thompson has not even been notified of the award, much less presented with it. Hugh Thompson deserves this medal. He deserves the dignity and accolades of a public ceremony. The Army dishonors itself if it offers him less.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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