American My Lai hero dies

December 20, 2016 - 09:20

Lawrence Manley Colburn, a helicopter gunner in the US Army during the war in Việt Nam, who helped end the massacre of hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese villagers by U.S. troops at Mỹ Lai, has died at the age of 67, reported the Associated Press.

Mỹ Lai massacre survivor Đỗ Bá, left, meets on March 15, 2008, with former US Army officer Lawrence Colburn, who helped stop the massacre 40 years before. — AP Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — Lawrence Manley Colburn, the US army helicopter gunner who helped stopped the massacre of hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese villagers by US troops at Mỹ Lai in 1968, has died at the age of 67, reported the Associated Press.

We are shocked and very sorry for the death of Lawrence Colburn, a person who has a special place in the heart of locals in Sơn Mỹ. He is deeply respected for saving many locals from the Mỹ Lai massacre,” Phạm Thành Công, director of  Mỹ Lai Museum, told Việt Nam News.

Lisa Colburn told AP on Thursday evening that her husband of 31 years was diagnosed with cancer in late September and died on Tuesday.

"It was very quick," she told AP by phone from her home in Canton, Ga., near Atlanta. "He was a very peaceful man who had a great desire for a peaceful world."

She also called him "a compassionate person who was a hero in many people’s eyes".

Colburn was the last surviving member of a US Army crew that stopped fellow soldiers from further shootings and killings of Vietnamese civilians at Mỹ Lai in the central provinve of Quảng Ngãi on March 16, 1968. According to accounts, pilot Hugh Thompson landed the helicopter between unarmed villagers and American troops and ordered Colburn and crew chief Glenn Andreotta to cover him.

Thompson then persuaded members of Charlie Company to stop shooting. The American army company’s soldiers had begun shooting villagers that day, even though they hadn’t come under attack, authorities later said. The shooting quickly escalated into an orgy of killing that claimed the lives of as many as 504 civilians — most of whom were women, children or elderly.

In an initial Facebook post, Lisa Colburn confirmed her husband’s death and wrote: "As most of you know, Larry has been very ill for a while, but his suffering ended today, 12/13/16." She added: "Your friendship meant a lot to him."

Trent Angers, who wrote a biography of Thompson, The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story, said Colburn played an indispensable role in stopping the massacre at Mỹ Lai.

"He stood up, shoulder to shoulder with Hugh and Glenn, to oppose and stand down against those who were committing crimes against humanity. Without his assistance, Hugh might not have done what he did," Angers said.

Colburn and Thompson were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for their actions and received the Soldier’s Medal, the highest US military award for bravery not involving conflict with the adversary.

Thompson, who lived in Lafayette, La., died in 2006. Andreotta was killed in combat in Việt Nam three weeks after Mỹ Lai.

AP reported that a memorial service for Colburn is planned on January 7. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by three sisters. — VNS/AP