Convicted US soldier apologises for My Lai massacre

The only US Army officer convicted over the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai made an extraordinary public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he went on trial.

William Calley, who has long shied away from publicity and routinely turned down journalists' requests for interviews about My Lai, broke his long silence after accepting a long-time friend's invitation to speak at a meeting of a local community club.



Speaking in a soft, sometimes laboured voice, he told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus, Georgia: "There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported yesterday.



"I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."



Calley, 66, was a young lieutenant when a court martial at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971 for killing 22 civilians during the infamous massacre of 500 men, women and children in Vietnam.



Frustrated US troops came to My Lai on a "search and destroy" mission, looking for elusive Vietcong guerrillas. Although there were no reports of enemy fire, the troops began mowing down villagers and setting fire to their homes.



The incident shocked Americans and undermined support for the war.



Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon later reduced his sentence.



After his release, Calley stayed in Columbus and settled into a job at a jeweller's shop owned by his father-in-law before he moved to Atlanta a few years ago.



Wearing thick glasses and a blue blazer at his appearance on Wednesday, Calley spoke softly into a microphone answering questions for half an hour from about 50 Kiwanis members gathered for their weekly luncheon in a church meeting room.



"You could have heard a pin drop," said Al Fleming, who befriended Calley about 25 years ago and invited him to speak.



"They were just slack-jawed that they were hearing this from him for the first time in nearly 40 years."



Mr Fleming and Lennie Pease, the Kiwanis president, said Calley's apology came at the beginning of his brief remarks before he began taking questions.



William Eckhardt, the chief prosecutor in the My Lai cases, said he was unaware of Calley ever apologising before. He said that when he first heard the news "I just sort of cringed".



"It's hard to apologise for murdering so many people," said Mr Eckhardt, now a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "But at least there's an acknowledgement of responsibility."



Calley did not deny taking part in the massacre on March 16 1968, but insisted he was following orders from his superior, Capt Ernest Medina - a notion Mr Eckhardt rejects.



Capt Medina was also tried by a court martial in 1971 and was acquitted of all charges.



When asked if he broke the law by obeying an unlawful order, the newspaper reported, Calley replied: "I believe that is true."



"If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them - foolishly, I guess."



Mr Pease said the Kiwanis Club tried to keep Calley's appearance quiet, not wanting to attract outside attention.



He said it was obvious that Calley had difficulty speaking to a group, though he addressed every question head-on and received a standing ovation when he finished.



"You could see that there was extreme remorse for everything that happened," Mr Pease said.



The last listed phone number for Calley in Atlanta has been disconnected and Mr Fleming refused to disclose his present number.



Mr Fleming said he had spoken several times with Calley about his combat experiences in Vietnam. He described Calley as "a compassionate guy", despite his infamous role at My Lai.



"I think he may feel like it was time to say something," Mr Fleming said.



Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders