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Man credited with stopping My Lai massacre denies being a hero


NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Former Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson is credited with stopping the My Lai massacre by ordering his crew to shoot American soldiers who continued killing villagers.

But Thompson said he is no hero.

"I was doing my job that day," Thompson told a group of University of Oklahoma law students Tuesday during a discussion of the massacre's historic and legal ramifications.

Col. William Eckhardt had a different take on things.

"He's a hero because time after time he came forward," said Eckhardt, who helped prosecute key figures in the massacre, including Lt. William Calley Jr., the platoon leader of the American troops in the village.

"I want people to remember what (Thompson) did and to act like he did," Eckhardt told the students.

An estimated 500 Vietnamese civilians, mostly old men, women and children, were gunned down by American soldiers on March 16, 1968.

A military panel convicted Calley of murdering more than 20 villagers and sentenced him to life at hard labor. After appeals, Calley later served three years confined to personal quarters.

Eckhardt called My Lai the "greatest military tragedy in our history," and said he has no regrets about prosecuting Calley, even though it was unpopular at the time.

Also speaking at the seminar was Wayne Alley, who as a military appellate judge denied Calley's appeal. Alley is now a federal judge for western Oklahoma. Calley operates a jewelry store in Columbus, Ga.

"In massacring civilians, there was no conscience," Alley said. "That is Lt. Calley's flaw. They lost the sense that the Vietnamese were humans. Calley exemplified that."

The mission on the day of the massacre was to take over My Lai, which was suspected of being used by enemy forces to hide soldiers and military supplies.

Thompson and his crew flew ahead of the infantry and over the village, but saw nothing suspicious. But on the second pass, he said the American troops were in the village and there were already a large number of bodies.

"I saw a wounded female on the ground and said 'Get a medic.'

He walked up and blew her away.

"That got my attention. I asked for help for a person and got a person murdered."

Thompson blames bad leadership, revenge and fear for what happened in My Lai.

"I don't care if Hitler came out with his hands out, at that point he's a prisoner."

It took the government 30 years to recognize Thompson for his actions.

He received the Soldiers Medal in 1998 for his attempt to stop the incident.

Despite the massacre and the time gone by before his recognition, Thompson -- wearing an American flag tie -- said he still loves his country.

"I wear the tie because some people might think from what I say I don't love my country. But I love my country.

"I just would never lie for my country."

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