This mass murder of innocent civilians is referred to as the Mỹ Lai Massacre, or the Sơn Mỹ Massacre, and it took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe which were situated inside Sơn Mỹ village in 1968.
A 1998 BBC report described the massacre in this way:
The My Lai massacre, which took place on the morning of March 16, 1968, was a watershed in the history of modern American combat, and a turning point in the public perception of the Vietnam War.
In the course of three hours more than 500 Vietnamese civilians were killed in cold blood at the hands of US troops. The soldiers had been on a "search and destroy" mission to root out communist fighters in what was fertile Viet Cong territory.
Yet there had been no firefight with the enemy - not a single shot was fired at the soldiers of Charlie Company, a unit of the Americal Division's 11th Infantry Brigade.
The 48th Viet Cong Battalion - the intended target of the mission - was nowhere to be seen.
When the story of My Lai was exposed, more than a year later, it tarnished the name of the US army. Most Americans did not want to believe that their revered GI Joe could be a wanton murderer.
My Lai was the sort of atrocity American patriots preferred to associate with the Nazis."
The US began an immediate cover-up of the Mỹ Lai Massacre. As noted above, details only began to emerge more than a year after the slaughter.
In late 1969 investigative journalist, Seymour Herch, pieced together the brutal details of the massacre. You can read Herch's original dispatches here.
Survivors of the Massacre told how American soldiers rounded up unarmed civilians, tortured them, gang raped women and girls, and then murdered them in cold blood.
Platoon leader, Second Lieutenant William Calley, personally killed dozens of villagers he had ordered into a ditch.
Calley was found guilty of premeditated murder of twenty-two civilians on March 29, 1971. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but President Nixon ordered him released pending his appeal of sentence.
In the end Calley, who was the only US soldier convicted of any crime for the Massacre, spent just three and a half years under "house arrest" at Fort Benning.
It is also fair to note that several soldiers refused to participate in the Massacre, and at least three intervened to try and stop the killings.
I can hardly imagine that too many Americans will want to remember the Mỹ Lai Massacre today. American memory is, afterall, notoriously short and brutally ignorant of its own history.
It is also likely that forty years from now only a few will want to remember that on November 19, 2005, in Haditha, a city in the western Iraq province of Al Anbar, US Marines killed 24 innocent civilians with much the same murderous fervour that compelled the merciless killings in the Mỹ Lai Massacre.
This post also appears at Indiginist Intelligence Review.
See a report about a survivor of the Mỹ Lai Massacre here.