Another bit of information about My Lai.
At the time of the massacre, I was the senior briefing officer for the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPac) Hawaii. We received a complete listing of combat actions and enemy contact on a daily basis. We only read the reports for I Corps, which consisted of the northern provinces of, then, South Vietnam. This was the area commanded by the Third Marine Amphibious Force (IIIMAF), headquartered in Danang.
Since there were hundreds of incidents each day (patrols, air support, enemy contacts), my team sifted through the daily reports and reported what appeared to be the most significant. Each incident was highlighted on maps and shown via overhead projectors. The reports included all patrols, regardless of size, ambushes, contacts, our KIA, MIA, and wounded. The report for the enemy was KIA (confirmed), KIA (probable — supposed to have some confirmation like blood trails), weapons captured, munitions destroyed, etc.
(On January 28, 1968, I left Hawaii to return to Viet Nam for a 13-week mission that included visits to the northern provinces. During that time I heard nothing about My Lai.)
When the My Li incident came to light, I was back in Hawaii. I went back into the files and looked at the report for that day. Sure enough, there was a bit more than one line — the hamlet name, the map coordinates, then the other statistics. The report said 174 (not exactly sure now) enemy KIA, three rifles captured. No friendly casualties reported.
It should have been a red flag, but we missed it. (The Tet Offensive had occurred, and our attention was focused on that and the aftermath.) The fog of war? The absolutely incredible requirements for reporting activities to Washington? It is tough to determine at this late date.
Of interest, to me, however, was that My Lai is on the Batangan Peninsula, just north of the then large Marine base at Chu Lai. When I first landed in Viet Nam, in 1966, our battalion, the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (1/5) took up its position north of Chu Lai. In early 1967, Charlie Company (C-1/5) was given the mission of sweeping the peninsula, including My Lai. The company commander. Capt. Marshall Buckingham Darling (aka: Buck) took his company and swept the assigned area. Buck, retired as a colonel (now deceased), was a graduate of UCSB. When he returned to base after about 10 days on the sweep, he reported sniper fire, but no close contact. However, he did give a warning that the area seemed to be a hotbed for anti-American and South Vietnamese activity. Numerous spider holes (for snipers), no males around, except the old, children acting resentful and not begging for candy and cigarettes, as was normal. Plus other indications of defensive positions prepared. He reported, in a common term then used, that he went through “Indian Country” and that he had to insure that absolute control be exercised by all Officers and Non-Coms to prevent any possible incident. Control worked. Buck was an exemplary Marine!
The point being, that control is difficult when under threat. Everyone is on edge. Men remember buddies who were killed. It doesn’t take much to ignite a firestorm.
(For anyone who might be offended by the term, “Indian Country” was the name of the territory around Fire Support Base Arizona, South of Chu Lai. It just signified a very hostile territory. The commanding officer of FSB Arizona was a Marine colonel by the name of James B. Ord (grandson of the Army general who’s name was given to Ft. Ord near Monterey.)
The My Lai massacre focused on the U.S. Army. However, the Marine Corps and Navy also had former members who were sent to Leavenworth for crimes committed in Viet Nam.