Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither, and lose both.
-- Benjamin Franklin

R.I.P. Hugh Thompson

There are true heroes in war.

Some, of the Alvin C. York variety, overcome incredible odds to show extraordinary bravery in defense of their their fellow soldiers, and their country. Like any nation, we are grateful, and quick to acknowledge the amazing courage they have shown.

Others show another kind of bravery – fighting against all pressure for what is right, bringing a measure of morality and honor to what is basically an evil and immoral activity.

Such a man was Hugh Thompson, Jr.

From the BBC

Hugh Thompson Jnr, a former US military helicopter pilot who helped stop one of the most infamous massacres of the Vietnam War has died, aged 62.

Mr Thompson and his crew came upon US troops killing civilians at the village of My Lai on 16 March 1968.

He put his helicopter down between the soldiers and villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow Americans if they attacked the civilians.

“There was no way I could turn my back on them,” he later said of the victims.

Mr Thompson, a warrant officer at the time, called in support from other US helicopters, and together they airlifted at least nine Vietnamese civilians – including a wounded boy – to safety.

Hugh Thompson served first in the US Navy, and then enlisted in the army to fly helicopters, where his role was draw fire from the enemy, in order to locate them. After My Lai, he continued to fly the OH-23 helicopters, being shot down a total of five times. More details are at wikipedia or US News and World Report.

Sadly, it was 30 years before the United States recognized the courage of Hugh Thompson by awarding him the “Soldier’s Medal”.

I was fourteen in 1968, and remember being shocked that Americans could do what was done at My Lai. It was a revelation to me that Americans were not always the “good guys”. I remember wondering about how those people could exist, and also recognizing the courage of those who put a stop to it. While the name of Lt. Calley is burned into my memory, I don’t remember hearing the names of those who stopped him.

Mr. Thompson represented, I believe, the best tradition of American soldiers – fighting bravely and serving when needed, but also remembering the principles for which he fought.

Requiem en pacem, Hugh Thompson

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