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My Lai residents remember war's bloodshed

Children practice for ceremony marking anniversary of My Lai massacre  
March 14, 1998
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EST (0350 GMT)

MY LAI, Vietnam (CNN) -- The people of My Lai this weekend prepared to mark the 30th anniversary of the day the Vietnam War was fought at their doorsteps.

vxtreme CNN's Paul Caron reports

Graves near the tiny hamlet serve as reminders of March 16, 1968, when U.S. soldiers, angry at the deaths and maimings of their comrades, killed as many as 500 Vietnamese -- many of them old people, women and children.

In a country where ancestral worship remains a powerful tradition, the war's losses continue to grip hearts and minds.

"We have 6,000 graves here," said Hoang Van Tao, a cemetery keeper in central Quang Tri province.

"One hundred times every month, people come to this place looking for loved ones...Some people just hold the graves and cry."

Helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson has a message for the people of My Lai
icon 119 K/9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

After a lengthy military trial in 1971, U.S. Army platoon leader Lt. William Calley and five other soldiers were court-martialed for their parts in massacre.

Calley, convicted of the murders of 102 people, was sentenced to life in prison. He served only three years under house arrest because President Richard Nixon ordered his sentence reduced.

Debate still surrounds what really happened at My Lai, and the death toll has been disputed. A U.S. military investigation team estimated about 200 people were killed.

Healing the wounds

Workmen on Saturday cleaned statues and plaques in a memorial park outside the village's museum.

This year, area residents, local officials and two Americans who tried to stop the killings plan to mark the occasion with a ceremony aimed at healing the wounds.

U.S. helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and door gunner Lawrence Colburn returned to Vietnam Thursday. Both men had attempted to halt the My Lai massacre by placing themselves and their helicopter between U.S. troops and fleeing civilians.

Thompson visiting schoolchildren in My Lai  

Together with colleague Glenn Andreotta, who died a few weeks later, Thompson and Colburn loaded people onto the chopper and flew them to safety.

During ceremonies in Washington earlier this month, Thompson and Colburn each were awarded the prestigious Soldier's Medal in recognition of their bravery.

"I hope people here understand it was not everyone that took part in that incident that day," said Thompson, 54, of Lafayette, Louisiana. He now works for the Veterans Administration, providing counseling for military veterans.

Pham Phi Nhanh, a woman saved by Thompson, said: "If he didn't rescue us we would have died because there was another American soldier who would have shot us."

Correspondent Paul Caren contributed to this report


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