MY LAI, Vietnam – Forty years after rampaging American soldiers slaughtered her family, Do Thi Tuyet returned to the place where her childhood was shattered.
“Everyone in my family was killed in the My Lai massacre – my mother, my father, my brother and three sisters,” said Tuyet, who was 8 years old at the time. “They threw me into a ditch full of dead bodies. I was covered with blood and brains.”
More than a thousand people turned out Sunday to remember the victims of one of the most notorious chapters of the Vietnam War. On March 16, 1968, members of Charlie Company killed as many as 504 villagers, nearly all of them unarmed children, women and elderly.
When the unprovoked attack was uncovered, it horrified Americans, prompted military investigations and badly undermined support for the war.
Sunday’s memorial drew the families of the victims, returning U.S. war veterans, peace activists and a delegation of atomic bombing survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“We are not harboring hatred,” said Nguyen Hoang Son, vice governor of Quang Ngai, the central Vietnamese province where the incident occurred. “We are calling for solidarity to defend peace, to defend life and to remind the world that it must never forget the massacre at My Lai.”
Although the occasion was somber, many visitors said they drew hope from it.
“So much positive energy has come from such a negative event,” said Richard Chamberlin, 63, a returning veteran from Madison, Wisconsin. “The people here have amazing resilience. I’m grateful that they’ve treated us as friends, not enemies.”
Chamberlin was part of a delegation called the Madison Quakers, a Wisconsin group that has built a peace park and three schools in My Lai, including a new one that was dedicated Sunday. The group’s leader, war veteran Mike Boehm, arranged for a group of atomic bombing survivors from Japan to join his delegation.
“If hope can rise from the ashes of My Lai,” he said, “it can rise from anywhere.”