U.S. Vets Reunited with Boy They Saved From My Lai
March 16, 2001
By Rathavary Duong
MY LAI, Vietnam (Reuters) - Do Ba is now 42, but to Larry Colburn he will
always be the 9-year-old boy he saved from the most notorious massacre of
the Vietnam War.
And to Ba, Colburn will always be a second father.
Friday, 33 years to the day after a company of U.S. soldiers ran amok in
the central Vietnamese village of My Lai, killing some 500 people, the two
shared an emotional day of reunion and remembrance.
Ba was one of 11 Vietnamese villagers whom Colburnthen 18 -- and two
crewmates from a U.S. army helicopter risked their lives to save on March
16, 1968. A search-and-destroy mission by Charlie Company of the Americal
Division had degenerated into a mass murder of civilians, 123 of them
children under age 5.
Colburn, from Canton, Georgia, and pilot Hugh Thompson, from Lafayette,
Louisiana, were reunited with Do Thursday for the first time since 1968
when they shared the same flight en route to a commemoration ceremony at My
"After 33 years of thinking of him every day, it's just extraordinary to
see him again, truly extraordinary," said Colburn, who was with wife and
his own 9-year-old son.
"It's like my own boy, he was the same age as my little boy," he said. "I
hoped in all those years that he would never remember what happened."
During the rescue, Thompson landed his helicopter between a group of
soldiers and the civilians they were about to shoot. He ordered Colburn, a
door gunner at the time, to open fire on the marauding GIs if the massacre
Colburn said it was crew chief Glenn Andreotta who had got out into a ditch
to look for survivors in a heap of bodies.
"Glenn Andreotta went straight to the ditch and handed the boy to me," he
said. "I held him on my lap until we got to the hospital. I thought he was
only 4 or 5."
HEROES IN AMERICA AND VIETNAM
Andreotta was killed in action three weeks later. Since the war, he,
Colburn and Thompson have been hailed as heroes in the United States and
Despite Colburn's hopes, Ba, whose mother and two younger sisters were
killed in the massacre, still remembers clearly.
"I was terrified," he said. "So I pretended I was dead when a man came and
picked me up for the first time. But he did the same thing again, a second
and third time and I thought he was trying to rescue me, so I moved."
The My Lai veterans came back to the village to inaugurate a Peace Park
sponsored by the Quakers of Madison, Wisconsin. Together they planted 50
trees leading to a memorial pagoda.
Ba hugged Colburn frequently and clasped the hand of his son Connor.
"I'm sad for all those people who died here, but it feels good to be here,"
"Do Ba is like a big brother."
Connor wants to learn Vietnamese so they can stay in touch.
Thompson, 25 at the time of the massacre, said he was delighted to see Ba
"I feel good to see he's doing well now. I always wondered what became of
him. I had no idea what became of him after we left him in the hospital."
The veterans had hoped to be reunited with Ba in 1998, but he was in jail
at the time for petty theft. He now works as an electrician for a firm in
Ho Chi Minh City and hopes to take up their invitation to visit the United
"I will always be grateful to these two Americans who saved my life," he
said. "I will remember them for ever. But I still feel hatred for those
Americans who killed my family."
POWELL TO VISIT
Charlie Company's commander, Lt. William Calley, was convicted and
sentenced to life in jail. However, late U.S. president Richard Nixon
intervened and he was freed after three years' house arrest.
"I don't think it's fair," Colburn said. "I think he should face the music.
It's a facade to appease the American people. It was just facade.
"The U.S. should not be exempt from war crimes tribunals ... . It's
important morally and historically."
Thompson said he hoped Secretary of State Colin Powell, who joined the
Americal Division in Vietnam after the massacre and is accused of helping
cover up the first reports, would find some words of atonement during a
first return visit he is expected to make later this year.
"I hope that what he will say is personal and not political when he comes,"
Colburn blamed politicians for horrors like My Lai.
"I think the military were really trying to make the war less horrible," he
"War is horrible and it happened on both sides. I think what happened was
that it was untrained and new people, too ready to engage. Revenge is part
of war, just like fear."
Thompson added: "I hope that the Vietnamese people will understand that not
everybody was crazy that day."
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