We arrived at the site of the massacre early in the day. We had spent much of the day before travelling to Quang Ngai City and then grabbed a motorbike taxi first thing in the morning to travel the 8km to get to the site of My Lai (known as Son My to locals).
The paddy fields and palm trees surrounding My Lai show the peace and tranquillity of the area. But the reason we are here is to see the site of chaos and destruction that occurred on this spot in 1968.
Shortly after dawn on March 16th, 1968, three Platoons of the American army’s C company, 11th Brigade arrived in the area. They were on a search and destroy mission with instructions to root out and eliminate members of the North Vietnamese NLF army in the area. Instead of enemy soldiers, they were greeted with the sight of Son My village waking up. Villagers were beginning their days. The men had gone out to the paddy fields to work, leaving the elderly at home with the women and children.
1 Platoon, under the leadership of William Calley entered the village and began senselessly shooting. They moved down women and children in with their machine gun fire, without encountering any resistance or enemy fire. Some of those killed were as young as 5 years old. Several of their bodies were mutilated before being dumped in a ditch on the edge of the village. Around 500 Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered in Son My, with the majority being women and children. The people of Son My never got their justice. Calley served just three years under house arrest for his involvement.
Our guide told us this story and we listened in stunned silence, unable to comprehend the destruction which took place in such a peaceful setting. As she finished the story something struck me.
I looked around and saw that the three of us were almost the only people there. It was surreal. The route we had taken around Vietnam was well travelled and everywhere we went we encountered throngs of tourists, but very few people had been interested in taking the time to come to Son My.
The nearest popular tourist destination is Hoi An, a three-hour drive away. So, making the trip out to Son My is only undertaken by those aware of the site and determined to see it for themselves.
Life remains fairly unchanged in Son My. The population lives now, largely as they did then, working in the paddy fields. The whole village, therefore, takes on the air of a memorial. You can see the stillness and sense the calm among the population, which only reinforces the visual of the orgy of destruction reaped on the tranquil local population.
While there are many sites, memorials and museums dedicated to remembering the Vietnam War, this was one of the most powerful. Not just because of the events that occurred on March 16th, 1968, but because it is so under-visited and so untouched, making the wounds of the past appear raw and unhealed.