Speaking in a soft, sometimes laboured voice, the only US army officer convicted for the 1968 slayings of civilians at My Lai in Vietnam made an extraordinary public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base in Georgia where he went on trial.
William Calley has always refused requests for interviews. But he broke his long silence after accepting an old friend's invitation to speak at a local community club.
"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," he told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus. "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. 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 US 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 reduced his sentence. After his release, Calley stayed in Columbus and worked at a jewellery shop owned by his father-in-law before moving to Atlanta a few years ago. Wearing thick glasses and a blue blazer, Calley spoke softly into a microphone on Wednesday, answering questions for half an hour. "You could have heard a pin drop," said Al Fleming, who invited him to speak. "They were just slack-jawed that they were hearing this from him for the first time in 40 years."
Calley didn't deny taking part in the massacre on 16 March 1968, but insisted he was following orders from his superior, Captain Ernest Medina, who was acquitted.
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