But he and his crew—appalled when they came upon their fellow U.S. troops killing civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai— landed their helicopter between the shooting soldiers and fleeing villagers, pointed their guns at the Americans and told them to stop firing.
Door-gunner Lawrence Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta covered Thompson as he stepped out to confront the leader of the U.S. soldiers. Thompson later evacuated terrified civilians and landed again to take a wounded child to the hospital. His actions led to a local cease-fire.
Although the massacre at My Lai came to international attention in 1969, the world at large didn’t learn about Thompson and his crew until almost three decades later, when the Army honored them at last. At first, they were shunned and vilified by their military peers.
Over time, though, Thompson became a model for officers in training at West Point, says the head of the military academy’s department. Thompson saved lives not only in Vietnam but in other wars under other officers who kept their troops in line because of his story.
—Adapted from “My Lai Rescuer Hugh Thompson Jr.,” Associated Press.