174th Assault
Helicopter Company
DOLPHINS & SHARKS


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MG Mike Ackerman Presents the Soldier's Medal
to Hugh Thompson and Larry Colburn


In the photo below, Major General Michael Ackerman (Shark 6, 1971) is flanked on his left by Mike Sloniker (Dolphin 15, 1971) and Jim McDaniel (Shark 4, 1967/68). This photo was taken on March 6, 1998, following General Ackerman's presentation of the Soldier's Medal to Hugh Thompson and Larry Colburn for their life-saving actions at the village of My Lai, Vietnam on March 16, 1968. Below this photo, see the full text from the CNN television coverage of the ceremony, which contains the majority of the text of General Ackerman's remarks. Click HERE (not yet completed) to see the Washington Post article of the awards ceremony (with photographs), published the following day. Photo by David Clemmer at the Vietnam Veterans Memoral, Washington DC, March 6, 1998.


My Lai Medal Ceremony

Aired on CNN Television
March 6, 1998 - 2:00 p.m. ET

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It remains one of the darkest chapters in American history. The 30th anniversary of the My Lai massacre comes up in just a few days. A ceremony today at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington will honor three men who tried to stop the carnage at My Lai. It will also remind Americans of a painful time in this country a generation ago.

CNN's Bruce Morton did several tours in Vietnam as a journalist. And he covered the court-martial of two of those charged in the My Lai massacre.

Bruce joins us from Washington.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou.

Early on March 16, 1968, Charlie Company, Task Force Baker, American Division, helicopter assaulted into a Vietnamese village called My Lai. The soldiers were looking for the enemy, but they found and killed civilians, 504 civilians, according to a plaque which stands in My Lai now, old men, unarmed, women, children, the Viet- Cong. But that search soon degenerated into a massacre of as many as 500 innocent men, women, children, babies. At least one child was raped.

The commander of the platoon that did most of the shooting was a lieutenant named William Calley. He rounded up a group of villagers on a path, fired at them, ordered his men to fire at them, put another group in a ditch, fired at them, ordered his men to fire.

It took months for the story of the massacre to get out but eventually Calley was charged with murder, and court-martialed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Calley said he was just following orders, firing at people, at the enemy, sir? Did you see women? I don't know, sir? Did you see children? I don't know, sir. They were all the enemy. They were all to be destroyed sir. Following orders.

AUBREY DANIEL, MY LAI PROFESSOR: What Lieutenant Calley did was, in this village he gathered up, unarmed, old men, women, children and babies and summarily executed them over an extended period of time -- Many, many, many, many.

There is no order that justifies that type of conduct.

MORTON: The jury found Calley guilty and sentenced him to life. But he was freed less than three years later.

DANIEL: I think the My Lai massacre really brought into focus for the country the limits, if you will, on our consciousness. It made us take a very, very long, hard look at the war and the conduct of the war and what it meant for Americans. So I think it was a very emotional time for our country to look at the realities of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Now, the men who tried to stop the carnage at My Lai 30 years ago will be honored a the Vietnam War Memorial. The ceremony is under way let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL ACKERMAN, U.S. ARMY: ... remain strong during the most difficult hours. The accounts you will hear today is about soldiers who stood tall during a time of great introspection for our country and for our Army. Quality people are at the heart of everything that the Army does, working together with shared core values and common heritage.

It is the Army's enduring values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage that have allowed the Army to meet new challenges and missions in an era of change. Values that inspire a sense of purpose necessary to sustain soldiers in difficult times.

These same values were displayed by Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta on the 16th of March, 1968 in a village called My Lai, Republic of Vietnam.

It was at that time and at that place that one of the most shameful chapters in the Army's history was recorded. The details of the events of that day were thoroughly investigated, and from those recommendations the Army was able to look at itself and take corrective action to ensure My Lai would never happen again. And it has not happened again.

The leadership of the Army recognizes the responsibility to ensure that institutional values continue to be nurtured, reinforced and preserved in the face of ongoing change. This ceremony provides a forum to do just that.

Early in the morning on March 16th, 1968, an example of how values held up in the most demanding situation took place. Mr. Hugh Thompson, Jr., Mr. Lawrence Colburn and Mr. Glenn Andreotta exhibited great personal courage and ethical conduct at the Vietnamese village of My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.

Thompson, then a warrant officers and a helicopter pilot; and Colburn, then a specialist and door gunner; and Andreotta, then a specialist and crew chief, came upon American ground troops killing Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai. They landed the helicopter in the line of fire between American ground troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians to prevent their murder.

Colburn and Andreotta provided cover for Thompson, as he went forward to confront the leader of the American forces and subsequently coaxed the civilians out of a bunker to enable their evacuation. After the evacuation and as they were lifting off they landed again to retrieve and evacuate a wounded child and took him to the hospital at Quang Ngai.

Upon completing a number of heroic rescue operations the crew refueled at a local air strip and returned to report the incident to its chain of commander. Subsequently, an order was passed down by the task force chain of command to cease-fire, calling a halt to the further killing of Vietnamese civilians.

It is clear that the crew saved the lives of at least 11 Vietnamese and initiated the report which saved the countless others by bringing about a cease-fire.

In his book, "The My Lai Inquiry," Lieutenant General William Peers wrote, "If there was a hero of My Lai, he, Thompson, was it."

(continued below the photograph)

Larry Colburn, below left, and Hugh Thompson reunite March 5, 1998, the night before they were awarded the Soldier's Medals for heroic actions that saved civilians from being killed by American soldiers in My Lai, Vietnam, in 1968.
Photo 1998 by The Army Times


...It was the ability to do the right thing, even at the risk of their personal safety that guided these soldiers to do what they did. This afternoon, we will finally recognize these men for their heroic actions, awarding the Soldier's Medal is the most appropriate way to recognize these soldiers for those actions that clearly capture the essence of Army values, courage and the highest standards of moral, personal and ethical conduct. This award is a symbolic affirmation of these long-held Army ideals and is a tribute to these great soldiers, men who have become a legend in their own time and whose actions on the 16 of March, 1968 have set the standard for all soldiers to follow.

I would like to close with a quote that Winston Churchill made during the early days of World War II. He said, "God, grant me that my principal men be men of principle."

On the 16th of March, 1968, there were men of principle present. Their names were Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta.

Please publish the order so we may formally present these awards.

ANNOUNCER: The Soldier's Medal is awarded to Mr. Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. for heroism above and beyond the call of duty on 16 March, 1968, while saving the lives of at least ten Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of noncombatants by American forces at My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.

Ward Officer Thompson landed his helicopter in the line of fire between Vietnamese civilians and pursuing American ground troops to prevent their murder. He then personally confronted the leader of the American ground troops and was prepared to open fire on those American troops should they fire upon the civilians.

Warrant Officer Thompson, at the risk of his own personal safety, went forward of the American lines and coaxed the Vietnamese civilians out of the bunker to enable their evacuation, leaving the area after requesting and overseeing the civilians air evacuation.

His crew spotted movement in ditch filled with bodies of south of My Lay Province. Warrant Officer Thompson again landed his helicopter and covered his crew as they retrieved a wounded child from the pile of bodies. He then flew the child to the safety of a hospital Quang Ngai.

Warrant Office Thompson relayed reports of the massacre and subsequent report to his section leader and commander resulted in an order for the cease-fire at My Lai and an end to the killing of innocent civilians.

Warrant Officer Thompson's heroism exemplified the highest standards of personal courage and ethical conduct, reflecting distinct credit upon him and the United States Army.

Signed, Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary of the Army.

(APPLAUSE)

The Soldier's Medal is awarded to Mr. Lawrence Colburn for heroic performance on march 16, 1968 in saving the lives of at least ten Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of noncombatants by American forces at My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.

Specialist Colburn was serving as a door gunner on a helicopter which landed in the line of fire between American ground troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians to prevent their murder.

Specialist Colburn, at the risk of his personal safety, provided cover for the pilot as he went forward of the American lines and confronted the leader of the American forces, and subsequently coaxed the Vietnamese civilians out of a bunker to enable their evacuation.

Later, as the helicopter was lifting off after seeing the evacuation of the Vietnamese civilians, Specialist Colburn spotted movement in a ditch filled with bodies south of the My Lai four. The helicopter again landed, and Specialist Colburn, assisted by the crew chief, retrieved a wounded child from the pile of bodies. The child was then flown to the safety of a hospital at Quang Ngai.

Specialist Colburn's efforts resulted in an order for the cease- fire at My Lai and an end to the killing of innocent civilians. Specialist Colburn's heroism exemplifies the highest standards of personal courage and ethical conduct, reflecting distinct credit upon him and the United States Army.

Signed, Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary of the Army.

(APPLAUSE)

Please be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Thompson.

HUGH C. THOMPSON, SOLDIER'S MEDAL RECIPIENT: Fellow veterans, distinguished quests and friends, thank you all very much.

I'd like to start off by thanking the United States Army for seeing fit to present me with this award. I proudly and humbly accept it, not only for myself, but for all the men who served their country with honor on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. And I -- excuse me -- and I see many of those brave men in the audience today. Welcome home.

I would like to thank my gunner, Larry Colburn, who is up here with me today. Thanks for all the support while we were in Vietnam. Thanks for getting me back home safe.

I'd like to thank my mother, Wesley (ph) Thompson, who is back home in Lafayette, Louisiana, and my late father for all their love and nurturing all these years and for laying the ethical and moral foundation that served me well all through my life.

I'd like to thank my crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, who was at My Lai with us that day. He alone helped save civilians from a ditch. He then died for his country later in Vietnam. I'd also like to thank his mother, Mrs. Andreotta, who gave up such a fine son and who today still feels the heartache of the loss of her son.

I'd like to thank Professor David Eagen (ph) from Anderson, South Carolina, who was on a crusade for 10 years to have the Army award this medal. I promise you, this day would not have been possible were it not for his efforts.

Thanks also to Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Klinits (ph), who played a key role in moving this medal through channel.

I especially would like to thank Mona, who had stood by me for the last 14 years during very high times and also very low times.

And finally, I'd like to recognize all Vietnam veterans who are alive today all across America, and especially to those who are on the wall right out to the left. And I'd like to thank all of them who served their country with honor. In a very real sense this medal is for you.

Thank you and God bless you.

Again, to my fellow veterans, welcome home. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Colburn.

LAWRENCE COLBURN, SOLDIER'S MEDAL RECIPIENT: Good afternoon. Thank you, everyone, for attending.

I'd like to acknowledge the Andreotta family for their sacrifice; my family for their love and support; Hugh Thompson for his courage and loyalty to his crew; Professor David Eagen, who worked relentlessly on this project; Colonel Daniel Gibson (ph), who was instrumental in this award.

It's my solemn wish that we all never forget the tragedy and the brutality of war. And I'd like to quote General Douglas MacArthur: "The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and the unarmed. It's his very existence for being."

Thank you all very, very much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the official song of the United States Army.

(MUSIC)

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, this includes today's ceremony. Please feel free to congratulate the award recipients. Thank you for your attendance...

WATERS: An overcast and highly emotional day at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial and the awarding of the Soldier's Medal to those two men.

And, Bruce Morton, the reference to David Eagen, who Mr. Colburn said worked relentlessly on this project indicates how difficult it was getting these Soldier's Medals awarded even 30 years later.

MORTON: Lou, there's always been an element -- excuse me -- of cover-up in this. They were awarded medals back in 1968, not very long after My Lai. But Thompson, the helicopter pilot, got the distinguished Flying Cross. His two crewmen got the Bronze star. Those are medals you normally get for action against the enemy.

And the citations back then read as if they had been in a fight involving American troops and Viet-Cong troops, which, of course, was not the case.

The Soldier's Medal, which they got today, is the highest award the U.S. Army can give for bravery which does not involve conflict with the enemy. And, of course, the conflict here was with Lieutenant Calley and the platoon. Thompson aimed his helicopter door guns at Calley and the platoon, and said, if they interfere with me, shoot them.

WATERS: And you would almost have to wait a generation before you could close the book on a story like this?

MORTON: I think so. It's very hard closure. It's taken a very long time. And I think that's part of what Thompson meant when he said welcome home.

WATERS: Bruce Morton in Washington. We'll take a break and we'll be right back.

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