The records featured in today's post all deal with Lt. William Calley Jr., the U.S. Army officer who ordered, and was one of the many soldiers who took part in, the horrible event that has become known as the My Lai Massacre. The massacre took place in March 1968 in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai and resulted in the deaths of 300 - 500 unarmed civilians, many of them women, children and the elderly.
The widespread atrocities were initially covered-up, but news about the savage events that took place that day eventually leaked out and Calley was formally court-martialed and charged with murder.
His primary defense rested on his belief that he was following the orders of his superiors, but that's always seemed like something of a non sequitir to me. While it's not unimagineable that Calley was in fact ordered to make sure the entire village was wiped out, the slaughter of unarmed and defenseless people has pretty much always been illegal and indefensible, at least for as long as warfare laws have been around.
Calley was the only soldier convicted of war crimes for the incidents that took place in My Lai. On March 29, 1971, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth.
Upon announcement of the verdict many Americans were appalled, including most of those whose records are included below. President Nixon immediately ordered Calley transferred from prison to house arrest arrest at Fort Benning while his appeal was heard. State legislatures in New Jersey, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and South Carolina passed motions officially requesting clemency for Calley. Alabama Governor George Wallace quickly named Calley an honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Alabama National Guard. Here in Georgia, Governor Jimmy Carter proclaimed an "American Fighting Man's Day" and asked the state's residents to drive with their headlights on during daylight hours in a week-long protest.
Rick Riddle - Hang On Bill (2:07)
Lucky Clark - My Lai (2:48)
Incidentally, the Smokey Harless record (Hang Lt. Calley) is not actually a condemnation of Calley's acts, as its title seems to indicate. Rather, it's a stinging rebuke to those who wanted to see Calley punished.
Despite being sentenced to life in prison, Calley was ulitmately paroled after serving less than four years under house arrest at Fort Benning. These days Calley, 69, stays out of the headlines and seems to live a quiet life in Atlanta.
In 2009, while publicly speaking about the events for the first time, he apologized for his role in murders at My Lai. Addressing the Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Georgia near Fort Benning, Calley said, "There is not a day that goes by when I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, and for the American soldiers involved and their familes. I am very sorry."