July 17, 1969

Wilson interviews Private Meadlo, who is the first to personally confess his guilt. With Meadlo's confession, Colonel Wilson presents the findings of his investigation to the Office of the Inspector General in Washington.


August 4, 1969

The investigation is turned over to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) after it is determined that a full criminal investigation is necessary. The CID is led by Chief Warrant Officer André Feher.


August 19, 1969

Authorities at Fort Benning decide to press charges against Lieutenant Calley.


August 25, 1969

Detective Feher interviews former Army photographer Sergeant Haeberle, who shows Feher a collection of personal photographs he had taken at My Lai. These pictures are the first hard evidence regarding the alleged massacre.

 


William Calley
Corbis

William Calley
September 5, 1969

The day before his scheduled discharge from the Army, Lieutenant Calley is charged with six counts of premeditated murder. The public information office issues a press release stating Calley was being retained because of an ongoing investigation.

NBC Correspondent Robert Goralski states during an evening broadcast five days later that Lieutenant Calley "has been accused of premeditated murder of a number of South Vietnamese civilians. The murders are alleged to have been committed a year ago and the investigation is continuing."


Late October 1969

Detective Feher travels to Vietnam for further inquiries.


November 11, 1969

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh interviews Lieutenant Calley at Fort Benning. 35 papers pick up the resulting story on November 13th. Hersh's story is the first to explicitly alert the American press to an investigation, and within days the reporters from the New York Times, Newsweek magazine and ABC descend upon Son My village where some My Lai survivors remain.


November 17, 1969

The New York Times runs a story that quotes survivors of the My Lai massacre, who claim over 567 Vietnamese men, women and children were killed by American soldiers.


November 26, 1969

The General of the U.S. Army, W.C. Westmoreland, issues a directive for an investigation into the My Lai incident, and appoints Lieutenant General William R. Peers to lead the inquiry. Peers, a well-respected core commander in Vietnam, is ordered to examine the adequacy of inquiries into the My Lai massacre. This inquiry is intended to focus on a possible military cover up, whereas Detective Feher and the CID are charged with examining potential war crimes during the operation itself.

In a hearing before the armed services committee of the House and Senate, Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, testifies. He presents what was incontrovertibly known about the My Lai massacre and announces the appointment of Lieutenant General Peers to lead the inquiry. Resor also presents Photographer Sergeant Ron Haeberle's photos from that day.


Early December 1969

Lieutenant General Peers' inquiry team grows exponentially, and the number of officers under investigation increases to 46.

The Wall Street Journal publishes an informal poll that claims most Americans don't believe the claims that a massacre took place in My Lai.


December 2, 1969

The Peers inquiry identifies 10 possible suspects for the My Lai killings and begins taking testimony from witnesses.


One of Ron Haeberle’s photos depicting a man and child shot in My Lai.
Getty Images

A man and child shot in My Lai.
December 5, 1969

Sergeant Haeberle's photos are published and exacerbate the already-strong public outcry over the My Lai massacre. On the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite issues a warning about the disturbing images for viewers before showing them. The horrific images immediately cause a country-wide uproar.


December 8, 1969

President Nixon speaks for the first time about the My Lai investigation, acknowledging that it appears a massacre took place, but stating his confidence that it was an isolated incident.


Mid-December 1969

CID begins a census of civilian casualties at My Lai. The census concludes that Charlie Company killed 347 Vietnamese men, women and children. 45 members of Charlie Company are found responsible for crimes ranging from violation of the rules of war to murder.


William R. Peers
National Archives

William R. Peers
December 24, 1969

The Peers Inquiry has gathered testimony from 39 witnesses. General Peers travels to Vietnam to locate copies of Lieutenant Colonel Barker's formal investigation that both Colonel Henderson and Major General Koster insisted existed, but finds no evidence of a report existing. During his two weeks in Vietnam, Peers also conducts more interviews and takes a reconnaissance flight over the My Lai villages.


January 8, 1969

Returning from Vietnam, Peers expands his team to accommodate multiple simultaneous interviews. The inquiry report deadline is set for March 14th.


March 7, 1970

The Peers Inquiry finishes their 399th interview to complete taking the testimony.

Three days later Captain Medina is charged with assault with a deadly weapon and premeditated murder of over 100 civilians.


March 14, 1970

The Peers Report is delivered to Army General Westmoreland. The Panel names 30 people who had suppressed evidence about the killing of civilians during the My Lai operation. Because of a two-year statute of limitations on military offenses, the army has only two days to press charges.


March 15, 1970

The Army presses charges against 25 men, including Captain Eugene Koutoc (aggravated assault,) Colonel Oran Henderson (dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime, perjury,) and Brigadier General George Young (dereliction of duty, failure to obey lawful regulations.)


Captain Ernest Medina
Greg Olsen

Captain Ernest Medina
November 17, 1970

Lieutenant Calley's court-martial begins for six counts of premeditated murder that he had been charged with nearly a year before. A conviction of these charges could come with a death sentence, and therefore brought a massive amount of media attention.

During the trial, the military prosecutor insisted that Calley ordered his men to deliberately murder civilians, a direct defiance of the U.S. Rules of Engagement. Calley's defense was that he was simply following the orders of Captain Medina, a defense damaged by Medina's denial of any such order.


January 1971

During his trial for charges of assault with intent to murder at least six My Lai civilians, Sergeant Charles Hutto admits to killing a group of unarmed civilians with an M60 machine gun.

Hutto's acquittal on the 14th sets the precedent that "obeying orders" is a viable defense for mass murder.


February 26, 1971

Despite Lieutenant General Peers' conclusion that General Koster was the motivating force behind the cover-up, charges against Koster are dropped. According to Peers, Koster is the beneficiary of a whitewash, and his only reprimand comes in the form of a reduction in rank.

Lieutenant Calley's trial provides the country with a public presentation of what actually occurred at My Lai. Calley, although not charged with everything that occurred, is accused of causing the deaths of a large percentage of those killed.


Calley salutes while being escorted from the courthouse.
Corbis

Calley salutes while being escorted from the courthouse
March 29, 1971

Calley is found guilty of premeditated murder of 22 civilians and sentenced to life in prison. This sentence is extremely controversial and generates a widespread public outcry, as an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that Calley was simply following orders, and condemn the fact that one soldier was serving as the army's scapegoat. Draft board members resign, veterans turn in their medals, and the "Free Calley" movement is born. Georgian governor Jimmy Carter asked his constituency to drive for a week with their lights on in protest, and flags are flown at half-mast in the state of Indiana.


April 1, 1971

After the White House receives over 5,000 letters of protest in one day, President Nixon intervenes and orders Lieutenant Calley released from the stockade and put under house arrest while his case is under review. Nixon's intervention sets a precedent of exoneration for the officers criminally associated with the incident at My Lai.

Lieutenant Calley's release from the stockade triggers other acquittals later this month. Captain Eugene Kotouc, the intelligence officer charged with assault and murder, will be cleared by a court-martial.


Fall 1971

Captain Medina is acquitted of all charges and Lieutenant Calley's life sentence is reduced to 20 years.


December 18, 1971

After a trial that included testimony from 106 witnesses, Colonel Henderson is acquitted of all charges.


April 16, 1974

Lieutenant Calley's sentence is further reduced from 20 years to 10 years.

Calley will return to the stockade from house arrest, but will be released on parole that November. In total, Calley serves four months in a stockade.


March 6, 1998

Warrant Officer Thompson is recognized for his courage and honesty with the Soldier's Medal. Along with Private Colburn, Thompson accepts his medal at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.


August 20, 2009

For the first time Lieutenant Calley speaks publicly about My Lai. In front of the Kiwanis Club of Columbus, OH, he says, "There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."


November 20, 2009

Former Army photographer Sergeant Ron Haeberle admits that he destroyed photographs that depicted soldiers in the act of killing civilians at My Lai.

 


  • Back
  • 1
  • 2 of 2

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

What are your thoughts about the Vietnam War, American remembrances of the war, history's judgments, your personal experience, or that of a family member?