This massacre took place just weeks after the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese inflicted great casualties throughout South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. As part of our counter-offensive, the Americal Division carried out a search and destroy mission through several My Lai hamlets. Early on the morning of the 16th, Lt. William L. Calley led his platoon through the hamlet and was met with no resistance, no enemy soldiers, and, indeed, virtually no men of military age. Despite this, the platoon literally searched and destroyed My Lai 4, burning the hooches and then gathering the villagers into two groups. During the next four to six hours (including a lunch break) the platoon “wasted” virtually all of the villagers, some 400 to 600 people.
The official post-op reports described only a mundane military operation with a typical high body count that went unchallenged in review. However, over the next year the facts of the massacre percolated throughout Vietnam and eventually burst into the news in the United States. After being prodded into an investigation, the Army instituted criminal charges against Calley. That prosecution produced a backlash in the United States. There was a very vocal group which supported Calley’s actions — including President Richard Nixon, who personally intervened to release him from the stockade and restrict him to “house arrest.”