PFC Paul Meadlo on the My Lai Massacre (1969)

meadlo my lai massacre
A sign photographed at a US Army camp in Vietnam in 1969 or 1970
Paul Meadlo was a US Army soldier who participated in the mass killing of civilians at My Lai in March 1968. A Private First Class Meadlo from Goshen in rural Indiana, Meadlo was a member of 1st Platoon Company C under Lieutenant William Calley. Two days after the My Lai Massacre, Meadlo lost a foot after stepping on a landmine; he had been following Calley’s orders to move quickly through an area known to be mined. Meadlo was subsequently returned to the US and discharged. He later testified at Calley’s trial after being granted immunity by prosecutors. In November 1969, a few weeks after Calley had been charged with murder, a film crew from television network CBS visited Goshen and interviewed Meadlo and members of his family. Meadlo’s mother told reporter Mike Wallace that she “raised [her son] to be a good boy, did everything I could. They came along and took him to the service [and] made him a murderer”. Meadlo’s father said, “if it had been me out there I would have swung my rifle around and shot Calley instead, right between the God damned eyes”. Paul Meadlo’s interview with Wallace was aired on November 24th 1969:

Wallace: “There were about 40-45 [soldiers] that took part in this?

Meadlo: “Right.”

Wallace: “Now you took off from your base camp?”

Meadlo: “Yes, Dolly [Camp]”.

Wallace: “At what time?”

Meadlo: “I wouldn’t know what time it was.”

Wallace: “In the early morning”

Meadlo: “In the early morning…”

Wallace: “And what had you been briefed to do when you got to Pinkville [My Lai]?”

Meadlo: “To search and to make sure that there weren’t no NVA [North Vietnamese Army] in the village…”

Wallace: “U-huh. So you took off in how many choppers?”

Meadlo: “Well, I’d say the first wave was about four, I mean four choppers… and we landed next to the village and we all got in line and we started walking toward the village. And there was one man, one gook in the shelter, and he was all huddled up down in there, and the man called out and said there’s a gook over here.

Wallace: “How old a man was this? I mean was this a fighting man or an older man?”

Meadlo: “An older man. And the man hauled out and said that there’s a gook over here. And then Sergeant Mitchell hollered back and said ‘shoot him’.”

Wallace: “Sergeant Mitchell was in charge of the 20 of you?”

Meadlo: “He was in charge of the whole squad. And so then the man shot him. So we moved on into the village and we started searching up the village and gathering people and running through the centre of the village.

Wallace: “How many people did you round up?”

Meadlo: “Well, there was about 40-45 people that we gathered in the centre of the village. And we placed them in there, and it was like a little island, right there in the centre of the village.”

Wallace: “What kind of people? Men, women, children? Babies?

Meadlo: “Men, women, children, babies. And we all huddled them up. We made them squat down, and Lieutenant Calley came over and said ‘You know what to do with them, don’t you? And I said yes. So I took it for granted that he just wanted us to watch them. And he left and came back about 10 or 15 minutes later and said ‘how come you ain’t killed them yet?’ And I told him that I didn’t think you wanted us to kill them, that you just wanted us to guard them. He said ‘no, I want them dead’.

Wallace: “He told this to all of you [the men] or to you particularly?”

Meadlo: “Well, I was facing him but the other three, four guys heard it… He stepped back, about 10-15 feet and he started shooting them. And he told me to start shooting. So I started shooting. I poured about four clips into the group”…

Wallace: “So you fired something like 67 shots?”

Meadlo: “Right.”

Wallace: “And you killed how many? At that time?”

Meadlo: “Well, I fired them on automatic so you can’t… you just spray the area, so you can’t know how many you killed ’cause they were going fast So I might have killed 10 or 15 of them.”

Wallace: “Men, women and children… and babies?”

Meadlo: “And babies.”

Wallace: “Okay, then what… Now you’re rounding up more?”

Meadlo: We’re rounding up more and we had about seven or eight people. And we was going to throw them in the hootch and, well, we put them in the hootch and then we dropped a hand grenade down there with them. And somebody… told us to bring them over to the ravine, so we took them back out and led them over… They had about 70-75 people all gathered up. So we threw ours in with them and Lieutenant Calley told me ‘Meadlo, we got another job to do. And so he walked over to the people, and he started pushing them off and started shooting.”

Wallace: “Started pushing them off into the ravine?”

Meadlo: “Off into the ravine. It was a ditch. And so we started pushing them off and shooting them…”

Wallace: Again, men, women, children… and babies?”

Meadlo: ” Men, women and children and babies.” …

Wallace: “You’re married?”

Meadlo: “Right.”

Wallace: “Children?”

Meadlo: “Two… The boy is two and a half and the little girl is a year and a half.”

Wallace: “Obviously, the question comes to my mind, the father of two little kids like that, how can he shoot babies?”

Meadlo: “I don’t know. It’s just one of them things.”

Wallace: “How many people would you imagine were killed that day?”

Meadlo: ” I’d say about 370…”

Wallace: “And you yourself were responsible for how many of them?”

Meadlo: “I couldn’t say… I couldn’t say. Just too many.” …

Wallace: “You call the Vietnamese ‘gooks’… are they people to you? Were they people to you?”

Meadlo: “Well, they were people. But it was just one of them words that we just picked up over there, you know. Just any word you pick up. That’s what you call people and that’s what you been called.” …

Wallace: “Did you ever dream about all of this that went on in Pinkville?”

Meadlo: “Yes, I did. And I still dream about it.”

Wallace: “What kind of dreams?”

Meadlo: “I see the women and children in my sleep. Some days, some nights, I can’t even sleep. I just lay there thinking about it.”