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Friday, 13 March, 1998, 13:15 GMT
My Lai: the cover-up
Bodies
The full horror of My Lai remained a tight secret for more than a year
It took more than a year for the shocking story of the My Lai massacre to reach the news stands.

Efforts had been made to cover up the atrocity from day one. Charlie Company's Captain Ernest Medina, who was on the ground at My Lai, realised that news of the events could cause trouble.

Despite witnessing at least 100 bodies, when questioned by a superior close to the scene, he maintained that between 20 and 28 civilians had been killed by gunship and artillery fire.

That was also the essence of a report submitted a month later by the commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade, Col Oran K Henderson. 20 civilians had been killed inadvertently, he claimed.

But the rumour mill, that had began turning within days of the My Lai massacre, told a very different story.

Soldier Paul Meadle
One of the soldiers in C company, Paul Meadle, admitted his part in the massacre on television
It took a combination of loose talk and a conscientious GI who harboured ambitions to become a journalist, for the allegations to reach the corridors of power back in Washington.

Ridenhour made it his mission to find out

Ronald Ridenhour, a soldier with the 11th Brigade soldier and also serving in Quang Ngai Province, was sharing a beer with members of Charlie Company when one of them started to boast of their exploits in My Lai.

Ridenhour was revolted but, from then on, made it his mission to substantiate the claims by speaking to other members of the squad.

Back in the US, he set down the allegations in a story which he posted to 30 top names in Washington. General William Westmoreland, who was in overall command of the Vietnamese operation, could not believe his men would engage in mass murder and ordered an immediate inquiry.

Evidence was amassed and the inquiry became a criminal investigation. Lt Calley, commander of the 1st platoon at My Lai, was called back to the US as a potential suspect and in September of 1969 he was charged with 109 murders.

The whitewash was about to begin.

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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