“Seymour Hersh, an independent investigative journalist, in a cable filed through Dispatch News Service and picked up by more than 30 newspapers, reveals the extent of the U.S. Army’s charges against 1st Lt. William L. Calley at My Lai.
“The incident, which became known as the My Lai Massacre, took place in March 1968. Between 200 and 500 South Vietnamese civilians were murdered by U.S. soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division. During a sweep of the cluster of hamlets known as My Lai 4, the U.S. soldiers–particularly those from Calley’s first platoon–indiscriminately shot people as they ran from their huts, and then systematically rounded up the survivors, allegedly leading them to a ditch where Calley gave the order to “finish them off.”
Ex-GI Tells of Killing Civilians at Pinkville
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 25, 1969
TERRE HAUTE, Ind., Nov. 25—A former GI told in interviews yesterday how he executed, under orders, dozens of South Vietnamese civilians during the United States Army attack on the village of Song My in March 1968. He estimated that he and his fellow soldiers Shot 370 villagers during the operation in what has become known as Pinkville.
Paul Meadlo, 22 years old, West Terre Haute, Ind., a farm community near the Illinois border, gave an eyewitness account—the first made available thus far—of what happened when a platoon led by Lt. William L. Calley Jr. entered Pinkville on a search-and-destroy mission. The Army has acknowledged that at least 100 civilians were killed by the men; Vietnamese survivors had told reporters that the death total was 567.
Meadlo, Who was wounded in a mine accident the day after Pinkville, disclosed that the company captain, Ernest Medina, was in the area at the time of the shootings and made no attempt to stop them.
Calley, 26, Waynesville, N .C., has been accused of the pre- meditated murder of 109 civilians in the incident. Medina, as commander of the Eleventh Infantry Brigade unit, is under investigation for his role in the shootings. Last week the Army said that at least 24 other men were under investigation, including Calley’s chief noncommissioned officer, Sgt. David Mitchell, 29, St. Francisville, La., who is being investigated for assault with intent to commit murder. Calley was ordered yesterday to stand general court-martial.
Here is Meadlo’s story as given in interviews at his mother’s home near Terre Haute:
“There was supposed to have been some Viet Cong in Pinkville and we began to make a sweep through it. Once we got there we began gathering up the people…started putting them in big mobs. There must have been about 40 or 45 civilians standing in one big circle in the middle of the village … Calley told me and a couple of other guys to watch them.
“ ‘You know what I want you to do with them’ he said,” Meadlo related. He and the others continued to guard the group. “About 10 minutes later Calley came back. ‘Get with it,’ he said. ‘I want them dead.’
“So we stood about 10 or 15 feet away from them, then he (Calley) started shooting them. Then he told me to start shooting them. … I started to shoot them, but the other guys (who had been assigned to guard the civilians) wouldn’t do it.
“So we (Meadlo and Cilley) went ahead and killed them. I used more than a whole clip—actually I used four or five clips,” Meadlo said. (There are 17 M-16 shells in a clip.) He estimated that he killed at least 15 civilians-or nearly half of those in the circle.
Asked what he thought at the time, Meadlo said, “I just thought we were supposed to do it.” Later, he said that the shooting “did take a load off my conscience for the buddies we’d lost. It was just revenge, that’s all it was.”
The company had been in the field for 40 days without relief before the Pinkville incident on March 16, and had lost a number of men in mine accidents. Hostility to the Vietnamese was high in the company, Meadlo said.
The killings continued.
“We had about seven or eight civilians gathered in a hootch, and I was going to throw a hand grenade in. But someone told us to take them to the ditch (a drainage ditch in the village into which many civilians were herded-and shot).
“Calley was there and said to me, ‘Meadlo, we’ve got an- other job to do.’ So we pushed our seven to eight people in with the big bunch of them. And so I began shooting them ill. So did Mitchell, Cilley …(At this point Meadlo could not remember any more men involved).I guess I shot maybe 25 or 20 people in the ditch.”
His role in the killings had not yet ended.
“After the ditch, there were just some people in hootches. I knew there were some people down in one hootch, maybe two or three, so 1 just threw a hand grenade in.”
Meadlo is a tall, clean-cut son of an Indiana coal mine worker. He married his high-school sweetheart in suburban Terre Haute, began rearing a family (he has two children) and was drafted. He had been in Vietnam four months at the time of Pinkville. On the next day, March 17, his foot was blown off, when, while following Cilley on an operation, a land mine was set off.
As Meadlo was waiting to be evacuated, other men in the company had reported that he told Calley that “this was his (Meadlo’s) punishment for what he had done the day before.” He warned, according to onlookers, that Calley would have his day of judgment too. Asked about this, Meadlo said he could not remember.
Meadlo is back at a factory job now in Terre Haute, fighting to keep a full disability payment from the Veterans’ Administration The loss of his right foot seems to bother him less than the loss of his self-respect.
Like other members of his company, he had been called just days before the interview by an officer at Fort Benning, Ga., where Calley is being held, and advised that he should not discuss the case with reporters But, like other members of his company, he seemed eager to talk.
“This has made him awful nervous,” explained his mother, Mrs. Myrtle Meadlo, 57, New Goshen, Ind. “He seems like he just can’t get over it.
“I sent them a good boy and they made him a murderer.”
Why did he do it?
“We all were under orders,” Meadlo said “We all thought we were doing the right thing. At the time it didn’t bother me.”
He began having serious doubts that night about what he had done at Pinkville. He says he still has them.
“The kids and the women—they didn’t have any right to die.
“In the beginning,” Meadlo said, “I just “thought we were going to be murdering the Viet Cong.” He, like other members of his company, had attended a squad meeting the night before, at which time Company Commander Medina promised the boys a good firefight.
Calley and his platoon were assigned the key role of entering the Pinkvi1le area first.
“When we came in we thought we were getting fired on,” Meadlo said, although the company suffered no casualties, apparently because the Viet Cong had fled from the area during the night.
“We came in from this open field, and somebody spotted this one gook out there. He was down in a shelter, scared and huddling. Someone said, ‘There’s a gook over here,’ and asked what to do with him. Mitchell said, ‘Shoot him,’ and he did. The gook was standing up and shaking and waving his arms when he got it.
“Then we came onto this hootch, and one door was hard to open.”
Meadlo said he crashed through the door and “found an old man in there shaking.
“I told them, ‘I got one,’ and it was Mitchell who told me to shoot him. That was the first man I shot. He was hiding in a dugout, shaking his head and waving his arms, trying to tell me not to shoot him.”
After the carnage, Meadlo said, “I heard that all we were supposed to do was kill the VC. Mitchell said we were just supposed to shoot the men.”
Women and children also were shot. Meadlo estimated that at least 310 persons were shot to death by the Americans that day.
“I know it was far more than 100 as the U.S. Army now says. I’m absolutely sure of that. There were bodies all around.”
He has some haunting memories, he says. “They didn’t put up a fight or anything. The women huddled against their children and took it. They brought their kids real close to their stomachs and hugged them, and put their bodies over them trying to save them. It didn’t do much good,” Meadlo said
Two things puzzled him. He vigorously disputes the repeated reports of an artillery barrage before the village was approached.
“There wasn’t any artillery barrage whatsoever in the village. Only some gunships firing from above,” he said.
The South Vietnamese government said Saturday that 20 civilians were killed in the Pinkville attack, most of them victims of tactical air strikes or an artillery barrage laid down before the U.S. troops moved in. The government denied reports of a massacre.
Meadlo is curious also about the role of Capt. Medina in the incident.
“I don’t know if the C.O. (Company Commander) gave the order to kill or not, but he was right there when it happened. Why didn’t he stop it? He and Calley passed each other quite a few times that morning, but didn’t say anything. Medina just kept marching around. He could’ve put a stop to it anytime he wanted.”
The whole operation took about 30 minutes, Meadlo said. As for Calley, Meadlo told of an incident a few weeks before Pinkville.
“We saw this woman walking across this rice paddy and Calley said, ‘Shoot her,’ so we did. When we got there the girl was alive, had this hole in her side. Calley tried to get someone to shoot her again; I don’t know if he did.”
In addition, Calley and Medina had told the men before Pinkville, Meadlo said, “that if we ever shoot any civilians, we should go ahead and plant a hand grenade on them.”
Meadlo is not sure, but he thinks the feel of death came quickly to the company once it got to Vietnam.
“We were cautious at first, but as soon as the first man was killed, a new feeling came through the company…almost as if we all knew there was going to be a lot more killing.”
“I want them dead.”
“It was just revenge, that’s all it was.”
“We all thought we were doing the right thing.”