SON MY MEMORIAL- Quang Ngai, Vietnam

Discussion in 'Vietnam - Motorcycle Trip Report Forums' started by Rod Page, Oct 1, 2011.


    As one of those long-haired uni students in the 60's who demonstrated regularly against the Vietnam War, referred to in VN as the American War, I was blown away by my visit to Son My Memorial. My opposition to this war remains as solid as I assume does the 'pride' of those who served.


    Early on 16 March 1968, after the area had been extensively bombed & raked by helicopter fire, the US Army landed by helicopter in 4 hamlets around the Son My district. They met with no resistance, nor did they come under fire. As the soldiers moved through they shot & bayoneted fleeing villagers, threw hand-grenades into homes & shelters, slaughtered livestock & torched dwellings. In one atrocity, up to 150 villagers were rounded up, herded into a ditch & executed. Dozens of civilians many of them the elderly, women & children were subsequently assembled & executed, whilst girls & women were gang-raped by soldiers.

    504 Vietnamese were massacred that day (the USA has admitted to 347, not that that has any bearing on the atrocity). The largest mass killing took place where the Memorial now stands. A dramatic stone sculpture of an elderly woman holding up her fist in defiance, a dead child in her arms, & the injured & dying at her feet, stares down on you as you enter the site. The scene of the atrocities has been painstakingly recreated & preserved. The cement path that was formerly simple dirt tracks through the village is indented with bare-feet & large military boot prints to give the sense of barefooted villagers fleeing the troops.






    Participating troops were ordered to keep their mouths shut, but several disobeyed & went public on their return to the USA sparking massive public protest & fueling a certain non-acceptance towards Vietnam veterans that continues to this day. A cover up of the atrocities was undertaken by the US Army & ultimately on both a political & a judicial level with a lower ranked officer being made the scape-goat.

    The testimony of certain American troops there on that fateful day have collaborated the VN account of events, as have the photographs of a US military photographer who arrived on the scene shortly after the attack. A small museum on the site honours these GI's who tried to stop the carnage, shielded, even rescued a number of villagers from certain death on the day & ultimately blew the whistle on the atrocities of that day.




    Much of the above was somewhat lazily taken from the Lonely Planet account of events; its difficult to have the stomach to want to elaborate further. & I make no apologies for any plageurism. 'Four Hours in My Lai" by Bilton & Sim is an excellent account.

    Unlike the Memorials in the West glorifying past victories, this tranquil rural setting to one of the most horrific crimes of the American War runs on a shoe-string budget. It further rips away at one's sense of decency.There's no guide, no guide-book or pamphlet to take you through; whilst respectfully neat & tidy the budget clearly precludes regular garden maintenance. I have marvelled during my relatively short visit to this wonderful country at the resilience of its people & of their ability to put hardship & adversity behind them as they move forward in search of a better life.
  2. We often use the term "Lest we forget" to remember our own "fallen" soldiers.

    I think it's an appropriate phrase here too.
  3. Ah, not fond memories!
    I was drafted after foolishly taking a semester off to party, from the University.
    They wanted to make me a Medic. Ah, no thanks, so I signed up for Officers Candidate School.
    The Army reneged on any of my 'guaranteed' branch choices, and sent me to Officers Infantry School.
    I spent 1 1/2 tours with the 1st Cav, in central South Vietnam.

    Due to the biased American press, it wasn't until I moved to Thailand and subsequently traveled
    much of Cambodia and some of Laos that I better understood the full extent of the atrocities perpetrated by my government.
    Sadly, to this day, people in those countries are still dying from the wars extensive use of mines.
  4. I received the following on my personal email from someone unfamiliar with how to post direct on GT R asking that I post it for him. So herewith:


    Am not familiar with how to reply to your 'posted' piece on SON MY MEMORIAL etc., but must say I found it very sad & moving!

    Never did want to serve/fight with the Yanks..... this report is horrific; yet showing a very brave US pilot amongst the GI trash.

    At least I can ascertain that we Aussies were well trained to fight & to fight with a high moral code of conduct. We Aussie diggers were taught 'Rules of Engagement' & they were basically set to ensure we did not shoot a person who was not the enemy; we had to be sure.... I even have the issued booklet on Engagement somewhere in my study here, 41 years later! We fought clean! They were, no doubt, very good, well-trained & tough soldiers with a great will to win what they considered their country.. etc.,

    In my brief time, never did I see or hear of any atrocities by Aussie soldiers against our enemy, whom I think I could say we held in high respect - good soldiers etc.,

    I'd never heard of this massacre, so was very interested in your summary of it, & the photos & inscribed tablet of events.

    Your travels never cease to amaze me!

    Take care & safe travelling.
  5. Great post Rod. An unusual read from the Aussie though and not that I am suggesting Australian soldiers would have done anything like this I'm sure the majority of American soldiers serving in Vietnam would/could say the exact same thing. None the less, a sobering post and reading it brought back memories of my visits to S21 in Phnom Penh. It always evokes a "how could this be allowed to happen?!" feeling and the sad thing is that this is still happening in other parts of the world. We'll probably find out about it in another twenty or thirty years... or maybe never but this still goes on. Ghana, Zimbabwe etc etc
  6. Great report about the "scenery" we are passing by when making a tour. Unfortunately SEA (and most parts of the world) is full of sad history, committed by whoever.

    But what buggers me is that we still are trying to sue nazi's or war-lords in africa (who have been supplied with weapons by the same people that are now trying to sue them) but that we NEVER EVER sue an west-european or american "war-lord". O shit I forget we are the good guys. Or if the country of the "war-lord" has oil or something else we need/want we call "revolution".

    Atrocities are happening right now, big & small (but what is the different if you are the victim?) and they even are still happening in our beloved guest country LOS.

    Chang Noi
  7. I regret joining this site. I should have done more research before joining. I did not realize I came from a non-desirable country. If I had known of the discrimination and hatred that would be projected towards a person because of their nationality or that I must be accountable for actions performed by other citizens of my country by generalization terms such as Americans, the US, or Yanks, which imply anyone from this country mentioned, I would not have joined. I thought the site was about a common interest of touring on motorcycles. The trip report about the place fine, the implications of, My countries better than yours, don't like THEM, or WE are better than YOU, is not for me.
    I am sorry these atrocities happened, regardless of who performed them. They are, however, a fact. One can say soldiers from America did this, or one can say Americans did this. But when you say Americans it implies all Americans did this. No need to respond for me, I will not be visiting the site anymore. Maybe you can add religion, politics, race, and gender remarks to the nationality remarks.
  8. The fact that Rod is using a basically unfamiliar title to this massacre is misleading to some, I believe. This incident is well know in the U.S. as the "My Lai Massacre". Yes, massacre. There have been documentaries, books and movies produced about this incident. People in the U.S. were divided on this incident equally as much as they were divided on the war. Soldiers were prosecuted. No one is proud of it, and it is far from some forgotten secret.

    I think whatever your side and belief on this and the war, you will be able to find documentation supporting your view and others, with a different view, will find facts supporting theirs. Rod says he was long haired and opposed the war in the 60's. I volunteered and joined the U.S. Marines in the 60's. I am sure he and I have vastly differing opinions on the war and what transpired. I am not going to change his view, nor he mine.

    Atrocities on both sides happen in every war that I have heard of, including the American Civil War where Americans fought brother against brother. That is one of the many cruelties of war. This however, is a motorcycling forum.

    I admire Rod's reporting on this forum and I have personally told him so. I would hate to see one of his posts closed because of country bashing, politics or nationalistic responses. I don't believe it is the intent of his reports to provoke that type of debates on this forum.

    When David and I were traveling in Vietnam, I heard many people say how they wish they could put the war behind them (that doesn't mean forget) and move on to things of importance now some 50 years later to promote their country, tourism and a more modern way of life.

    My Lai, happened. It is a shame of war. Let's agree that this report shows us the location of a memorial we most likely did not know about. If you want to see it, Rod has shown you how. If you want to know more facts, google and form your own opinion based on how you perceive it.

    Now let's get back to reading Rod's reports of what he is seeing while touring Vietnam today. :thumbup:
  9. I am sorry you have taken this post personally, as I believe the OP is only reporting on his trip to Son My Memorial - what is more generally known as the My Lai massacre.

    Reading through this thread the only contention I can see is perhaps the perception that there were different RoE [Rules of Engagement] for US and Australian forces serving in Vietnam.
    Perhaps there were, but if so they would have been minimal, as what occurred at My Lai would have been against the RoE of US, Australian & even ARVN forces.

    It should be noted that a number of courageous American soldiers had the guts to make official reports condemning the actions they witnessed at My Lai, most notably Hugh Thompson Jr.,,_Jr..

    When the News broke some 18 months after the massacre General Peers who conducted the investigation into what happened, was scathing about those in command and wanted to prosecute those in the CoC leadership for what happened that day, but was prevented from doing so by the politicos after the botched & protracted prosecution of Lt/Cpt Calley.
    from Wiki:
    "In November 1969, General William R. Peers was appointed to conduct a thorough investigation into the Mỹ Lai incident and its subsequent cover-up. Peers' final report, published in March 1970, was highly critical of top officers for participating in the cover-up and the Charlie Company officers for their actions at Mỹ Lai 4.[36] According to Peers's findings:
    [The 1st Battalion] members had killed at least 175–200 Vietnamese men, women, and children. The evidence indicates that only 3 or 4 were confirmed as Viet Cong although there were undoubtedly several unarmed VC (men, women, and children) among them and many more active supporters and sympathizers."

    I do agree that what may be termed "bar-room banter" gratuitously knocking others' countries for "past historical sins" is highly unnecessary and has no place on GT-Rider; but I do not see how you can perceive from either the original post -who is open about his perspective of the war- nor from the responses, how a sleight has been conferred upon you or the American people as a whole.

    Whatever one may think of the Vietnam war [remember the world was perceived entirely differently then, through the prism of the cold war and the errant belief of the Domino doctrine], as well as those currently being waged in sandy places, may have been and are possibly regrettable today. But to suggest that the politics of these conflicts and that the historical past reflects, or, criticism is implied upon individuals from the various nations who make up the GT-Rider fraternity imo would be reading a subtext that does not exist in this thread.

    We are residing in a corner of the world that is historically rich with footprints left by US, French & the Brits still very visible - if you care to look for them.
    To ride in this part of the world without remarking on the history, religion, & ethnic diversity et al would imho make the content of this forum far poorer.
  10. Hi all, it is a shame that someone takes offence at Rons valid and true comments on the war in Vietnam.
    I was also a product of this sad time.
    My family left Northern Ireland to immigrate to Australia for a better life because of the troubles in Belfast.
    I found myself in the draft at 18 to fight in a war that my family didn't even know about.
    My father who is now 86, told me at the time, that we will go back to Belfast, "at least we know who are fighten!"
    Ok, we were allies of the US, but my family were against it and wanted me to be a conciences objecter, which could have meant a gaol term.
    Luckily my birthday date didn't come up for the call up.(we had a lottery in Oz)
    I had already pissed off up the east coast surfing and living off the land, this was early 1969.
    Many other mates got called up and volunteered, I am still good friends with these people after over 40 years.
    If in Oz I still go to the Vietnam Vets bike shows and helped them build their club house in the Hunter Valley of NSW, Aust.

    So don't take Rons post as a personal attack on the Yanks, it was a f==ked war and only young people died, old politicians in Oz and the US were "ALL THE WAY WITH LBJ".
    Lest we forget, I don't want my kids or grandkids to go through the trauma of the 60's and the bloody Vietnam War.
    (Old guys rule, loved the long hair and pot)

  11. very sad tragedy
  12. Within 3 weeks of my visit, Ronald Haeberle, the American photo-journalist who took over 60 of the photographs of the My Lai massacre on display at the Son My Memorial returned to My Lai village; it was only the second time since the war he had returned to My Lai, both times virtually incognito.

    For many years correspondants wondered why Haeberle's photos were only of the dead or dying Vietnamese. A quiet man, Haeberle finally revealed that he had indeed destroyed many photos featuring US soldiers killing Vietnamese civilians. "I was there. I was one of them. All of us are guilty", he said.

    At the site where he witnessed the brutal killings, Haeberle was moved to tears and said, “I just tried to capture what had really happened. I knew the images were horrendous but it was the truth that needs to be told. I am sorry for all that happened.”

    Ron Haeberle was not a professional journalist, just a trainee soldier at that time. He was assigned to follow Charlie platoon to take photo of dead bodies to serve the army’s report of “achievement in destroying Viet Cong” and to supply pictures for the army’s Stars and Stripes Newspaper.

    When the first pictures were posted on this newspaper, many American were very shocked. They could not believe that it is the truth. “Heros” of the US army became brutal killers. A large-scale investigation, led by general Willian Peers, was carried out in three months. Haeberle became a significant witness in the most disreputable scandal of the US army.
  13. I'm also ex services, travelled in most of Asia, having worked in Vietnam quite a bit.The young people there don't think about what the previous generation went through, they are living now. We all should move on , but still learn from history. Rod has provided information which we can use or discard as we please.

    The Aussies have a memorial cross at Long Tan (I think it is the only foreign memorial allowed for the Vietnam war era) . There is nothing at the site except a white cross in a rubber plantation. It is quite sobering to stand there in the quiet forest and think about why it all needed to happen.
  14. DATES

    There are a couple of important dates in March that may be of interest to anyone traveling through central Vietnam at the time, especially if traveling south on the much undertaken run between Hanoi & HCMC. Unfortunately I will not be able to be on site on either occasion as I'll be riding extensively through northern Vietnam.

    8th March 1965 - the day that the American forces landed at Nam 'O Beach in Da Nang at the start of the American War (Vietnam War) campaign.

    16th March 1968 - the day of the My Lai Massacre near Quang Ngai (the subject of this report/thread).
  15. A BUMP for anyone riding through central Vietnam next month:

    8th March 1965 - the day that the American forces landed at Nam 'O Beach in Da Nang at the start of the American War (Vietnam War) campaign.

    16th March 1968 - the day of the My Lai Massacre near Quang Ngai (the subject of this report/thread).

    Well worth visiting both sites if in the area at the time.
  16. Thanks Rod for a great thread.
    I have read all of you guys' comments on this. It's interesting to see and to hear from different directions, different perspectives.
    As you may know Vietnam is quite "strange" country among other SE Asia!!?? It has a very long long war history: 1000 years with Chinesse occupation, almost 100 year under French occupation, and 20 years with the war with the US... and not only that, nowadays, Chinese is still going with their agression on Vietnam's East sea.
    Do you think we like fighting with others??
    How do you think a Country could live and develop with such kind of history??
    Well, not so difficult to answer those questions.
    Do you think we like to live with sad memory - as what you see on the above photos?
    We don't like that sad memories, at all. But we will never forget them. We will make it live forever to remind us and our grand grand children that how worth the freedom and independent, and how our predecessors have fought and sacrified for today's peace.

    FYI, I was born after all the war here in Vietnam have finished. And I will never forget that I have lost two of my Uncles during the war - we have never found their tombs until now. They are Soldiers and they have protected our Country, sacrified for our today freedom and independent.

    Now you come to Vietnam, I challenge you to find a Vietnamese, no mater young or old, is a soldier or not, who wants you to get out of our Country!!!
    As someone said above, now, just take it as the diversity of the history, culture and people surounding you.
    Welcome to Vietnam, you can ride on the not-so-good-roads, eat some crazy-food, stay in not-so-clean-hotels... etc... to see how beauiful our Country, how friendly we are, and yeah, post your RR here! :)
  17. Viethorse....

    You make some interesting and valid comments. I can only repeat what I said in my 2011 post above. When I was traveling in Vietnam, I found many people who think as you do. They wished to remember their history, and honor their fallen soldiers and relatives, but also feel it is time to move on. Some expressed that they wished the government and tourist agencies would stop focusing so much on the war years and their memorials, etc. Vietnam has a lot to offer in scenic sites, good food, and an interesting culture. As an American, I was pleasantly surprised at the warm welcomes I received and the Vietnamese hospitality which was given to me. It is time to leave the past behind, the lessons learned not to be forgotten, and move on.
  18. A 'bombshell' last month in Australia when retired Army Officer Major Ben Morris, haunted by the memory for some 47 years, exposed, after discussing the matter with all remaining living members of the platoon concerned, a cover-up of an Australian patrol that he commanded in Vietnam mistakenly slaughtering 5 civilians amidst allegations he was told by his commanding officer that they should have planted guns on their victim’s to make them look like enemy fighters.

    “The veterans wished to set the record straight because the published official histories had sanitized & romanticized a mongrel of a war”, said Morris.

    Well said, Major, my point exactly in originally writing this post.
  19. The usual 'bump' for riders in Vietnam on 16th March.......

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