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Vietnam: 19~Site of the massacre at My Lai

Everyone else had a low key sort of day planned, a very sensible idea after the previous night’s activities. But one thing I wanted to see while based in Hoi An involved a day trip by car, and I had scheduled that into this particular day. What I didn’t plan was doing this on three hours sleep, especially as the day began with a three hour drive south!

During my research for the trip I read for the first time about the My Lai massacre. One day in March 1968, American soldiers killed hundreds of non-combatant Vietnamese in the village of My Lai in what was one of the darkest incidents of the war. I was intrigued enough to buy the book Four Hours in My Lai and then felt compelled to go and look at the peace park that has been established as a memorial. I booked a private tour, with guide, driver and car.

My Lai is 150km south of Hoi An. While for obvious reasons I was unable to stay awake for the entire trip there, when I was conscious there was much to see as we travelled through rural areas and smaller towns.

Working the rice field

After I took this (out the car window) the guy held out his hand for payment!

The road also went past the site of an old American military base. Nothing to see now, save for a road and some concrete hangars in the distance.

Quick stop at the edge of what used to be a US military base at Chu Lai

Finally we arrived. First up I was taken to watch a couple of documentaries and look through a small museum.

The massacre was not made public until 19 months after it happened at which time the US military launched an investigation. It is impossible to imagine how soldiers could seemingly flip the way they did. The barbaric event has been described as the manifestation of high stress and anxiety after the soldiers saw over a period of time many of their peers injured and killed. Also, they were often unsure who the enemy fighters actually were since most Vietnamese in the south dressed similarly, leading to many soliders being convinced that villagers were Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathisers.

The exact number of victims was never established but is probably between 387 and 504. The memorial lists 504 names.

Part of a long list naming the victims

Then we walked around the grounds, starting with the large and impactful monument.

The My Lai memorial

There are several parts to the outside space, each very thought provoking. Footprints, sites where houses stood, family burial areas, cut marks in trees, artworks, and just knowing that death had lain everywhere.

The footpath contains preserved footprints of boots and barefeet, made when the memorial park was established to recreate patterns from soldiers and villagers

The ditch referred to is in the next photo

There are numerous plots where village dwellings stood before they were burned down

My guide said that a lot of tourists come here but not many Americans.

A couple of hours flew by and then we had to get going as there was another big activity lined up for the afternoon. More gawking out the window before we stopped for lunch about an hour back up the road. It was typical of a small restaurant in a Vietnamese town. Given my conservative approach to food experiences, this was quite bold for me!

Lunch stop... I had a few concerns after seeing how the food was stored but no unwellness resulted!

* * * * * *
This is part of a series recounting my 2009 trip to Vietnam.

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hayley — thank you for posting this. My Lai is such a horrific event in American history (among many others). These statues are so beautiful and poignant. Definitely, when I go to Vietnam some day, I will check this out. It’s so important to remember — especially Americans.

    19 December 2012
    • It’s fantastic they’ve been able to return the site, exposed to such sickening violence, to a place of peace, sobering and sad though it is. The world needs to remember such events. Thanks once again Steph.

      19 December 2012

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