My Lai: ex-US troop apologises

2009-08-22 19:35

Columbus - Speaking in a soft, sometimes laboured voice, the only US army officer convicted in the 1968 slayings of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai made an extraordinary public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he went on trial.

William L Calley has long shied away from publicity and routinely turned down journalists' requests for interviews about My Lai. But he broke his long silence on Wednesday after accepting a longtime friend's invitation to speak at a meeting of a local community club.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported on  Friday.

"I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

Calley, 66, was a young army lieutenant when a court-martial, a military trial, at nearby Fort Benning convicted him of murder in 1971 for killing 22 civilians during the infamous massacre of 500 men, women and children in Vietnam.

Frustrated US troops came to My Lai on a "search and destroy" mission, looking for elusive Vietcong fighters. Although there were no reports of enemy fire, the US troops began mowing down villagers and setting fire to their homes.

The incident shocked Americans and undermined support for the war.

Though sentenced to life in prison, Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon later reduced his sentence.