On 16 March 1968, WO1 Hugh C. Thompson, Jr. and his two-man helicopter crew were on a reconnaissance mission over the village of My Lai, Republic of Vietnam. WO1 Thompson watched in horror as he saw an American soldier shoot an injured Vietnamese child. Minutes later, he observed more soldiers advancing on a number of civilians in a ditch. Suspecting possible reprisal shootings, WO1 Thompson landed his helicopter and questioned a young officer about what was happening. Told that the ground combat action was none of his business, WO1 Thompson took off and continued to circle the embattled area.
When it became apparent to Thompson that the American troops had now begun firing on more unarmed civilians, he landed his helicopter between the Soldiers and a group of ten villagers headed towards a homemade bomb shelter. Thompson ordered his gunner to train his weapon on the approaching soldiers and to fire if necessary. Then he personally coaxed the civilians out of the shelter and airlifted them to safety.
WO1 Thompson’s immediate radio reports about what was happening triggered a cease-fire order that ultimately saved the lives of many more villagers. Thompson’s willingness to place himself in physical danger to do the ethically and morally right thing was a sterling example of personal and moral courage.
Sursa: FM 6-22, 2006 Army’s field manual on leadership.