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Forgotten heroes of My Lai receive honors

Thompson and Colburn
Thompson (L) and Colburn   
March 6, 1998
Web posted at: 3:28 p.m. EST (2028 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a ceremony some people thought would never take place, American soldiers were honored at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Friday for trying to stop a massacre that symbolized, for many, the darkest hour for the U.S. military in the Vietnam War.

Former U.S. Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson and door gunner Lawrence Colburn received the prestigious Soldier's Medal for their efforts to halt the bloodshed at the My Lai massacre nearly 30 years ago.

Crewman Glenn Andreotta, who died in a helicopter crash three weeks after My Lai, was also honored.

The medals ceremony
icon 17:00 min. VXtreme video
CNN's Bruce Morton reports
icon 2:01 min. VXtreme video

One of the cruelest chapters in the long and painful history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the My Lai massacre to this day causes emotional reactions in veterans and anti-war activists alike. American troops on a search-and-destroy mission stormed My Lai on March 16, 1968, killing hundreds of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children.

Thompson, then 24, landed his helicopter amid the carnage of the massacre, and, when he realized that American troops were attacking civilians, called for help to airlift the massacre's survivors to safety.

Maj. Gen. Ackerman presents the medal to Colburn   

He also ordered crew members to fire on their fellow Americans if they tried to further harm the villagers.

Shortly after My Lai, Thompson received the Distinguished Flying Cross as his crew mates received Bronze stars, but he looks on that cynically.

"It was only to keep me quiet," he said earlier.

Then, 10 years ago, David Egan, professor emeritus at Clemson University saw a BBC documentary on My Lai and began a campaign to get official recognition for Thompson and the two other soldiers.

Thompson, now a veterans' counselor in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Colburn, a salesman in Woodstock, Georgia, plan to visit My Lai on the massacre's anniversary later this month.

The Soldier's Medal is given to those who risk their lives in situations where an opposing army is not involved.


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