- Historic Sites
"I Had Prayed To God That This Thing Was Fiction…"
He didn’t want the job but felt he should do it. For the first time, the soldier who tracked down the My Lai story for the office of the inspector general in 1969 tells what it was like to do some of this era’s grimmest detective work.
February 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 1
This got easier when I found CW2 Dan R. Mullians at Fort Walters, Texas, and cut special orders for him to report to me in Washington on June 18. Mullians had been flying a helicopter in support of Charlie Company that morning, had heard no shooting and received no fire. He noticed the numerous bodies scattered in and around the village, in particular the ditch with bodies piled five to six feet deep. He stated that Thompson was enraged, and he had heard him say over the radio that “if he saw the ground troops kill one more woman or child he would start shooting [the ground troops] himself.”
Then we had PFC Lawrence M. Colburn, Thompson’s door gunner, brought to Washington from Fort Hood on June 19. He also confirmed Thompson’s testimony. I showed him a number of photographs, and he picked out Medina and Calley as the officers involved in the shootings. He had gotten out of the aircraft and walked toward the ditch with the crew chief, who had then crawled into the ditch; the crew chief had been knee-deep in people and blood. Colburn vividly remembered that they had found one young child alive, buried under the bodies. “He was still holding on to his mother. But she was dead.”
The boy, clinging desperately, was pried loose. Thompson said, “I don’t think he was even wounded at all, just down there among all the other bodies, and he was terrified.” Thompson and his men flew the baby to safety.
Henderson testified that he’d told Major Gibson to investigate the massacre. Gibson denied having any conversation about My Lai.
Maj. Glen D. Gibson, Thompson’s company commander, was located at Headquarters 6th U.S. Army and ordered to report to Washington on June 25. There was a conflict between his and Colonel Henderson’s testimony; Henderson had testified that sometime that evening he asked Major Gibson, commander of Thompson’s aviation company, to look into this matter of his gunships threatening American soldiers and also whether the crews had observed “any of my soldiers shooting at civilians.” Henderson stated that Gibson reported that “none of them had heard or seen any indiscriminate shooting, nor had they participated in any. He got a complete negative response from his people.” Gibson persistently denied having any conversations with Henderson about My Lai 4.
The next step was to talk to more of Calley’s people who had been on the ground. Ronald D. Grzesik was fire-team leader in Calley’s platoon. On June 26 in Springfield, Massachusetts, I questioned him about his orders prior to the attack on My Lai 4. He had heard Medina tell the men “to go in and destroy the village; to make it uninhabitable,” but he did not recall an order to destroy the inhabitants. For Grzesik, My Lai 4 was the end of a vicious circle that had begun months earlier: “It was like going from one step to another worse one....First you’d stop the people, question them and let them go. Second, you’d stop the people, beat up an old man, and let them go. Third, you’d stop the people, beat up an old man and then shoot him. Fourth, you’d go in and wipe out a village.”
I was struck by the picture of this man Meadlo crying by the dead; he was possibly the crucial witness, the man I needed to present the truth of My Lai.
While Grzesik was closing in on the village with his team, he was told to go to Calley. He walked over, and Calley ordered him to go to the ditch and “finish off the people.” Grzesik refused, Calley asked him again, and Grzesik again refused. “I really believe he expected me to do it,” Grzesik said with amazement. Calley angrily ordered him to take his men and burn the village. About three-quarters of the way through My Lai 4, Grzesik came upon an infantryman named Meadlo. It was after nine o’clock, and Meadlo was crouched, head in his hands, sobbing like a bewildered child. “I sat down and asked him what had happened.” Meadlo said that Calley had made him shoot people. Grzesik felt responsible because he was the team leader.
I was struck by the picture of this man Meadlo, crying by the bodies of the dead; he was possibly the crucial witness, the last man I needed to present the truth of My Lai. Further interrogation disclosed that Meadlo had lost his foot to a land mine the following day. While being loaded on the evacuation helicopter, he shook his fist at Calley and screamed, “God will punish you for what you made me do!” He was evacuated and discharged from the service. That meant he would remember the day as no other man would, because his account of the activities would not be influenced by barracks-room discussions following the operation. I knew from my own experience that combat troops eventually come up with an agreed-upon version of violent and dramatic events, and men defer to the authority of an account they have unconsciously collaborated on. So Meadlo was the one.