[Marxism] Larry Colburn, Who Helped Stop My Lai Massacre, Dies at 67

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 17 09:22:44 MST 2016

(Too bad that Seymour Hersh, who broke the My Lai story and who is 
mentioned in this obit, now supports the Syrian versions of Lieutenant 

NY Times, Dec. 17, 2016
Larry Colburn, Who Helped Stop My Lai Massacre, Dies at 67

Larry Colburn, who became an 18-year-old American hero when he 
intervened with two comrades to halt the massacre of unarmed Vietnamese 
civilians by United States soldiers in 1968, elevating an innocuous 
hamlet named My Lai into a watchword for the horrors of war, died on 
Tuesday at his home in Canton, Ga. He was 67.

The cause was liver cancer, his wife, Lisa, said.

Mr. Colburn was the last surviving member of a three-man helicopter crew 
that was assigned to hover over My Lai on Saturday morning, March 16, 
1968, to identify enemy positions by drawing Vietcong fire.

Instead, the men encountered an eerie quiet and a macabre landscape of 
dead, wounded and weaponless women and children as a platoon of American 
soldiers, ostensibly hunting elusive Vietcong guerrillas, marauded among 
defenseless noncombatants.

The crew dropped smoke flares to mark the wounded, “thinking the men on 
the ground would come assist them,” Mr. Colburn told Vietnam Magazine in 

“When we would come back to those we marked,” he said, “we’d find they 
were now dead.”

Audaciously and on his own initiative, the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 
Hugh Thompson Jr., swooped down and landed the copter.

“Mr. Thompson was just beside himself,” Mr. Colburn recalled in an 
interview in 2010 for the PBS program “The American Experience.” “He got 
on the radio and just said, ‘This isn’t right, these are civilians, 
there’s people killing civilians down here.’ And that’s when he decided 
to intervene. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this, are you 
with me?’ And we said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Mr. Thompson confronted the officer in command of the rampaging platoon, 
Lt. William L. Calley, but was rebuffed. He then positioned the 
helicopter between the troops and the surviving villagers and faced off 
against another lieutenant. Mr. Thompson ordered Mr. Colburn to fire his 
M-60 machine gun at any soldiers who tried to inflict further harm.

“Y’all cover me!” Mr. Thompson was quoted as saying. “If these bastards 
open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!”

“You got it boss,” Mr. Colburn replied. “Consider it done.”

Mr. Thompson, Mr. Colburn and Glenn Andreotta, the copter’s crew chief, 
found about 10 villagers cowering in a makeshift bomb shelter and coaxed 
them out, then had them flown to safety by two Huey gunships. They found 
an 8-year-old boy clinging to his mother’s corpse in an irrigation ditch 
and plucked him by the back of his shirt and delivered him to a nun in a 
nearby hospital.

Crucially, they reported what they had witnessed to headquarters, which 
ordered a cease-fire. By then, as many as 500 villagers had been killed.

Would Mr. Colburn have fired at his fellow Americans?

“How could I ever be prepared for something like that?” he replied years 
later. “Would I have? I guess that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?”

Seymour M. Hersh, the independent journalist who later uncovered the My 
Lai massacre, said of Mr. Colburn in a phone interview on Friday that 
“for a door gunner in Vietnam to point his machine gun at an American 
officer” under those circumstances “was in the greatest tradition of 
American integrity.”

Lawrence Manley Colburn was born on July 6, 1949, in Coulee Dam, Wash. 
His father, Harry, a World War II veteran, was a civil engineer who had 
helped build the Grand Coulee Dam. His mother, the former Catherine 
Manley, was a homemaker. His father died when Larry was 15.

An altar boy, he attended Roman Catholic elementary and junior high 
schools and a public high school, where, after an altercation with an 
assistant principal, he was suspended for two weeks. Rather than return 
to school, he joined the Army. Because he was 17, he needed his mother’s 

He earned his high school equivalency diploma in the Army before being 
shipped to Vietnam in December 1967.

The full extent of the gang rapes, massacre and mutilations by Charlie 
Company in My Lai and another hamlet, on the South Central Coast, was 
not exposed until two months after Mr. Colburn was discharged.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning report by Mr. Hersh for The Dispatch News 
Service in November 1969 provoked international outrage and eventually 
resulted in charges against more than a dozen officers. Only one, 
however, was convicted: Lieutenant Calley, for the murder of 22 
civilians. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but ended up serving 
only three and a half years under house arrest at Fort Benning, Ga.

Mr. Colburn entered Green River College in Auburn, Wash., on the G.I. 
Bill but struggled academically and financially and quit before 
graduating to become a commercial fisherman in Alaska.

He later moved to Oregon, where he met Lisa Cale, a student at Eastern 
Oregon State College. They married in 1985 and moved to Atlanta, where 
he sold orthopedic rehabilitation equipment.

She survives him, along with their son, Connor, and his sisters, Sheila 
Beal, Mary Jones and Colleen Capestany.

My Lai became a paradigm for unbridled brutality and an object lesson in 
battlefield ethics, but the crewmen whose audacious intervention 
prevented even more bloodshed were largely forgotten.

Their heroism was acknowledged with Bronze Stars, which they considered 
inappropriate recognition: The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery under 
enemy assault, they reasoned, and they had demonstrated courage in the 
face of friendly fire.

After the investigations and trial, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Colburn 
received something else, too: hate mail.

“One of the most infuriating things is being called a whistle-blower, as 
if we went and ratted someone out,” Mr. Colburn told Vietnam Magazine. 
“That is completely false; there was no back-stabbing going on. We were 
right in their face at My Lai. We were ready to confront those people 
then and there. And we did, the best we could.”

In the late 1980s, after seeing Mr. Thompson interviewed on a television 
documentary, David Egan, a professor at Clemson University in South 
Carolina, began a crusade to recognize, belatedly, the crew’s actions.

Trent Angers, the author of “The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh 
Thompson Story” (1999), told The Associated Press that Mr. Colburn had 
“stood up, shoulder to shoulder with Hugh and Glenn, to oppose and stand 
down against those who were committing crimes against humanity.”

“Without his assistance,” he added, “Hugh might not have done what he did.”

In 1998, 30 years after the massacre, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Colburn were 
awarded the Soldier’s Medal, which is granted for lifesaving bravery not 
involving direct contact with an enemy.

“It is my solemn wish that we all never forget the tragedy and brutality 
of war,” Mr. Colburn said at the ceremony, held at the Vietnam Veterans 
Memorial in Washington. “I would like to quote Gen. Douglas MacArthur: 
‘The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the 
weak and the unarmed. It is his very existence for being.’ ”

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Colburn walked the short distance to the memorial, 
where they made a rubbing of the inscribed name of Mr. Andreotta, who 
was killed in Vietnam three weeks after the massacre. He was awarded the 
Soldier’s Medal posthumously.

The two men returned to My Lai that year, meeting some of the villagers 
they had rescued and dedicating an elementary school. On the flight 
home, Mr. Colburn recalled, he turned to Mr. Thompson and said, “It was 
so good to see all those little kids smiling again, not having to worry 
about being blown up, not having to be looking over their shoulders all 
the time, just being able to be kids.”

Mr. Thompson died of cancer in 2006 at 62.

Two years later, on the 40th anniversary of the massacre, Mr. Colburn 
returned to Vietnam and was reunited with Do Ba, who as a boy had been 
rescued by Mr. Colburn from an irrigation ditch.

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