Army, My Lai hero near accord on medal ceremony Both sides in agreement on presentation in spring

December 04, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Army and the little-known hero of the My Lai massacre, embroiled in a dispute about a fitting location for a long-awaited medal ceremony, appear close to agreement.

Army officials said yesterday that they plan to award the Soldier's Medal to former helicopter pilot Hugh C. Thompson Jr. in the spring and that they are amenable to pinning it on at his preferred location: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"Both the Army and Mr. Thompson thought the most opportune time to make the presentation is in the spring," said Maj. Gen. John G. Meyer Jr., the Army's spokesman.

"All the Army wants to do is accommodate Mr. Thompson's requests to the maximum extent possible," Meyer said.

The Soldier's Medal denotes heroism and voluntary risking of life under conditions other than those in conflict against an enemy force. The Army had planned to award the medal yesterday in the office of Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. But Thompson balked at that location and another one at the Pentagon, the "Hall of Heroes," where the Medal of Honor winners are listed.

Thompson said the Vietnam memorial is more appropriate and, unlike the Pentagon, is open to the public.

Asked whether the presentation will be made at the memorial, Meyer said: "We're going to look at it very thoroughly."

From his home in Louisiana, Thompson said he spoke yesterday with Army officials. "I think they're going to do it right," he said. "They don't want to rush it."

As a 25-year-old Army warrant officer in March 1968, Thompson touched down near the massacre site as it was in progress and saved about a dozen villagers who were running from U.S. soldiers. He later alerted superior officers, who ordered an end to the shooting. Estimates of villagers killed run as high as 500.

The Army approved the medal for Thompson in August 1996. The Army has since debated about whether to confer the medal in a private or public ceremony, with some Army officers worrying that a public event would dredge up one of the service's most horrible chapters, Pentagon sources have said.

Thompson was not officially notified about the medal approval until last week.

The Army has yet to decide whether to grant Meritorious Service Medals, signifying outstanding noncombat achievement, to Thompson's two helicopter crew members, as Thompson has also requested.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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