Forty years on, survivors gather to remember My Lai

Lawrence Colburn returned to My Lai on Saturday and found hope in the killing fields. On the 40th anniversary of the infamous massacre, Mr Colburn was reunited with the person he rescued from the rampaging members of Charlie Company, the US troops who slaughtered up to 500 unarmed Vietnamese villagers in one of the most notorious chapters of the Vietnam War.

On 16 March 1968, Mr Colburn found eight-year-old Do Ba clinging to his mother's corpse in a ditch with the bodies of more than 100 people who had been mowed down. Nearly all the victims were women, children and the elderly.

"Today I see Do Ba with a wife and a baby," said Mr Colburn, a member of a three-man helicopter crew who intervened to stop the killing. "He's transformed himself from being a broken, lonely man. Now he's complete. He's a perfect example of the human spirit, of the will to survive."

Mr Colburn, Mr Do and hundreds of others are gathering this weekend to remember the My Lai massacre. The grim milestone shocked Americans and undermined support for the war, which ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon to Communist troops.

Buddhist monks led the mourners in prayer on Saturday outside a museum that has been erected to remember the dead. An official memorial programme will be held today. Among those coming to pray was Ha Thi Quy, 83, a My Lai survivor who still struggles with anger and depression four decades after the slaughter.

Members of Charlie Company shot her in the leg and killed her mother, her 16-year-old daughter and her six-year-old son. Her husband later died of his injuries and another son had to have an arm and a leg amputated after suffering gunshot wounds that day. Ms Ha survived only because she was shielded beneath a pile of dead bodies.

To the villagers and many of the Americans who fought in Vietnam, all the My Lai anniversaries are important. But this year's seems especially urgent to some of the Americans who have come to commemorate it.

The massacre reminds Mr Colburn of the images of torture from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We're supposed to learn from the mistakes of history, but we keep making the same mistakes," he said.