Call to the Table

Remembering Hugh Thompson, US Army helicopter pilot who stopped the My Lai massacre

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It is difficult to look at the suffering of people. But during the My Lai massacre there was an American soldier who looked. He was a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson. From his copter he saw the bodies of men, women and children on the ground dead and wounded. He realized that something horrific was going on. He then saw some people hiding in a bunker, cowering. He saw advancing American soldiers.

He landed his helicopter between the Americans and the Vietnamese. He told the Americans that if they opened fire on the Vietnamese, then his crew would stop them, and open fire on them.

Right: Hugh Thompson (at left) greeted by a Vietnamese women whose life he saved when he intervened to stop the US massacre of civilians in My Lai, 16 March 1968, on Thompson's trip back to My Lai in 1998.

It stopped. But 504 Vietnamese had been killed. Hugh Thompson later said that it was the only way he knew to stop “the madness.”

Thompson testified at the trial against the soldiers. He did not get much support for decades. But on the 30th anniversary of the massacre he went back to My Lai to meet some of the people he had saved. One of the survivors asked him why the soldiers who committed the crimes had not come back. Then she added, “So we could forgive them.” Recounting the experience he said, “I’m not man enough to do that. I wish I was, but I won’t lie to anybody. I’m not that much of a man.”

On that return visit Thompson wondered if anybody knew that all the Americans were not like the killers. “Did they know somebody tried to help? And yes, they did know that. That aspect of it made me feel real good.”

Thompson could’ve stayed hovering above it all. Instead he entered the suffering.

The story at this table is remembering that Jesus could’ve stayed hovering above the suffering. He entered it. At this table he invites us to do the same.

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Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC, March 18, 2018
(Story about Hugh Thompson from LATimes article by Jon Wiener on the 50th Anniversary of My Lai, March 16, 2018)