A letter from Ron Ridenhour regarding the My Lai massacre (1969)

Ron Ridenhour was one of two former soldiers who helped expose the horrific events at My Lai in March 1968. This is one of several letters he wrote to army command and members of the US Congress:

Mr. Ron Ridenhour
1416 East Thomas Road #104
Phoenix, Arizona
March 29th 1969


It was late in April 1968 that I first heard of “Pinkville” and what allegedly happened there. I received that first report with some scepticism. But in the following months, I was to hear similar stories from such a wide variety of people that it became impossible for me to disbelieve that something rather dark and bloody did indeed occur sometime in March 1968 in a village called “Pinkville” in the Republic of Viet Nam.

The circumstances that led to my having access to the reports I’m about to relate need explanation… In late April 1968, I was awaiting orders for a transfer from HHC 11th Brigade to Company E 51st Infantry when I happened to run into PFC “Butch” Gruver, whom I had known in Hawaii. Gruver told me he had been assigned to C Company 1st of the 20th until April 1st when he transferred to the unit that I was headed for. During the course of our conversation, he told me the first of many reports I was to hear of “Pinkville.”

Charlie Company 1/20 had been assigned to Task Force Barker in late February 1968 to help conduct “search and destroy” operations on the Batangan Peninsula, Barker’s area of operation… Gruver said that Charlie Company had sustained casualties; primarily from mines and booby traps, almost every day from the first day they arrived on the peninsula. One village area was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers. It was located about six miles northeast of Quang Nhi … It was a notorious area and the men of Task Force Barker had a special name for it: they called it “Pinkville.”

One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for “Pinkville.” Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants. When “Butch” told me this I didn’t quite believe that what he was telling me was true, but he assured me that it was and went on to describe what had happened.

The other two companies that made up the task force cordoned off the village so that “Charlie” Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants. Any villagers who ran from Charlie Company were stopped by the encircling companies. I asked “Butch” several times if all the people were killed. He said that he thought they were men, women and children.

He recalled seeing a small boy, about three or four years old, standing by the trail with a gunshot wound in one arm. The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers. He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw. “He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand; he didn’t believe what was happening. Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of M16 fire into him.” It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivac-ed out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter.

Although he had not seen it, Gruver had been told by people he considered trustworthy that one of the company’s officers, 2nd Lieutenant Kally (this spelling may be incorrect) had rounded up several groups of villagers (each group consisting of a minimum of 20 persons of both sexes and all ages). According to the story, Kally then machine-gunned each group. Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to 400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.

After hearing this account I couldn’t quite accept it. Somehow I just couldn’t believe that not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism but that their officers had ordered it. There were other men in the unit I was soon to be assigned to… who had been in Charlie Company at the time that Gruver alleged the incident at “Pinkville” had occurred. I became determined to ask them about “Pinkville” so that I might compare, their accounts with PFC Gruver’s.

When I arrived … the first men I looked for were PFCs Michael Terry and William Doherty. Both were veterans of Charlie” Company and “Pinkville.” Instead of contradicting “Butch” Gruver’s story they corroborated it, adding some tasty tidbits of information of their own. Terry and Doherty had been in the same squad and their platoon was the third platoon of C Company to pass through. the village. Most of the people they came to were already dead. Those that weren’t were sought out and shot. The platoon left nothing alive, neither livestock nor people.

Around noon the two soldiers’ squad stopped to eat. “Billy and I started to get out our chow,” Terry said, “but close to us was a bunch of Vietnamese in a heap and some of them were moaning. Kally had been through before us and all of them had been shot but many weren’t dead. It was obvious that they weren’t going to get any medical attention so Billy and I got up and went over to where they were. I guess we sort of finished them off.”

Terry went on to say that he and Doherty then returned to where their packs were and ate lunch. He estimated the size of the village to be 200 to 300 people. Doherty thought that the population of “Pinkville had been 400 people.

If Terry, Doherty and Gruver could be believed, then not only had Charlie Company received orders to slaughter all the inhabitants of the village – but those orders had come from the commanding officer of Task Force Barker, or possibly even higher in the chain of command. PFC Terry stated that when Captain Medina issued the order for the destruction of “Pinkville” he had been hesitant, as if it were something he didn’t want to do but had to. Others I spoke to concurred with Terry on this.

It was June before I spoke to anyone who had something of significance to add to what I had already been told of the “Pinkville” incident. It was the end of June 1968 when I ran into Sargent Larry La Croix … What he told me verified the stories of the others but he also had something new to add. He had been a witness to Kally’s gunning down at least three separate groups of villagers.

“It was terrible. They were slaughtering villagers like so many sheep.” Kally’s men were dragging people out of bunkers and hootches and putting them together in a group. The people in the group were men, women and children of all ages. As soon as he felt that the group was big enough, Kally ordered an M-60 set up and the people killed. La Croix said that he bore witness to this procedure at least three times. The three groups were of different sizes, one of about twenty people, one of about thirty people and one of about 40 people.

Exactly what did, in fact, occur in the village of “Pinkville” in March 1968 I do not know for certain – but I am convinced that it was something very black indeed. I remain irrevocably persuaded that if you and I do truly believe in the principles, of justice and the equality of every man, however humble, before the law, that form the very backbone that this country is founded on, then we must press forward a widespread and public investigation of this matter with all our combined efforts.

I think that it was Winston Churchill who once said “A country without a conscience is a country without a soul, and a country without a soul is a country that cannot survive”. I feel that I must take some positive action on this matter. I hope that you will launch an investigation immediately and keep me informed of your progress. If you cannot, then I don’t know what other course of action to take. I have considered sending this to newspapers, magazines and broadcasting companies, but I somehow feel that investigation and action by the Congress of the United States is the appropriate procedure…

Ron Ridenhour