Even better, if you truly want to acknowledge bravery in the line of fire, why not find more heroes like Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr.?
Thompson arrived in Vietnam on December 27, 1967 and quickly earned a reputation as "an exceptional (helicopter) pilot who took danger in his stride." In their book, "Four Hours at My Lai," Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim also describe Thompson as a "very moral man. He was absolutely strict about opening fire only on clearly defined targets." On the morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson's sense of virtue would be put to the test.
Flying in his H-23 observation chopper, the 25-year-old Thompson used green smoke to mark wounded people on the ground in and around My Lai. Upon returning a short while later after refueling, he found that the wounded he saw earlier were now dead. Thompson's gunner, Lawrence Colburn, averted his gaze from the gruesome sight.
After bringing the chopper down to a standstill hover, Thompson and his crew came upon a young woman they had previously marked with smoke. As they watched, a U.S. soldier, wearing captain's bars, "prodded her with his foot, and then killed her."
Unbeknownst to Thompson at that point, more than 560 Vietnamese had already been slaughtered by Lt. William Calley's Charlie Company. All Thompson knew for sure was that the U.S. troops he then saw pursuing civilians had to be stopped.
Bravely, landing his helicopter between the charging GIs and the fleeing villagers, Thompson ordered Colburn to turn his machine gun on the American soldiers if they tried to shoot the unarmed men, women, and children. Thompson then stepped out of the chopper into the combat zone and coaxed the frightened civilians from the bunker they were hiding in. With tears streaming down his face, he evacuated them to safety.
Officially termed an "incident" (as a opposed to a "massacre") My Lai has been widely accepted as an aberration. While the record of U.S. war crimes in Southeast Asia is far too lengthy to detail here, it's clear that was not the case. In fact, on the very same day that Lt. Calley entered into infamy (he later explained: "We weren't there to kill human beings, really. We were there to kill ideology"), another company entered My Khe, a sister subhamlet of My Lai. That visit was described as such: "In this 'other massacre,' members of this separate company piled up a body count of perhaps a hundred peasants-My Khe was smaller than My Lai-'flattened the village' by dynamite and fire, and then threw handfuls of straw on corpses. The next morning, this company moved on down the Batangan Peninsula by the South China Sea, burning every hamlet they came to, killing water buffalo, pigs, chickens, ducks, and destroying crops. As one of the My Khe veterans said later, 'what we were doing was being done all over.' Said another: 'We were out there having a good time. It was sort of like being in a shooting gallery.'"
Colonel Oran Henderson, charged with covering-up the My Lai killings, put it succinctly in 1971. "Every unit of brigade size has its My Lai hidden someplace." But not every unit had a Hugh Thompson.
This Veteran's Day, let's hear it for those brave souls who do the fighting...to end the fighting.
Excerpted in part from Mickey Z.'s new book, "50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism" (Disinformation Books). Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.