“Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…”

“Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall…” (April 5, 1971)
by Don Hesse (1918-1985)
9 x 12 in., grease pencil on paper
Coppola Collection

Don Hesse worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat from 1946 to 1984 and was appointed primary editorial cartoonist in 1951. Through syndication his political cartoons enjoyed a wide circulation, capturing the eye of long-term admirers like President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. Currently, many of Hesse’s cartoons are on permanent display in the Library of Congress

On the morning of March 16, 1968, around 100 soldiers from Charlie Company, following a short artillery and helicopter gunship barrage, landed in helicopters at Sơn Mỹ, a patchwork of settlements, rice paddies, irrigation ditches, dikes, and dirt roads, connecting an assortment of hamlets and sub-hamlets. The largest among them were the hamlets Mỹ Lai, Cổ Lũy, Mỹ Khê, and Tu Cung.

Although the GIs were not fired upon after landing, they still suspected there were VC guerrillas hiding underground or in the huts. Confirming their suspicions, the gunships engaged several armed enemies in a vicinity of Mỹ Lai; later, one weapon was retrieved from the site.

According to the operational plan, 1st Platoon led by Second Lieutenant (2LT) William Calley and 2nd Platoon led by 2LT Stephen Brooks entered the hamlet of Tu Cung in line formation at 08:00, while the 3rd Platoon commanded by 2LT Jeffrey U. Lacross and Captain Medina’s command post remained outside. On approach, both platoons fired at people they saw in the rice fields and in the brush.

The villagers, who were getting ready for a market day, at first did not panic or run away, as they were herded into the hamlet’s commons. Harry Stanley, a machine gunner from Charlie Company, said during the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division inquiry that the killings started without warning. He first observed a member of 1st Platoon strike a Vietnamese man with a bayonet. Then, the same trooper pushed another villager into a well and threw a grenade in the well. Next, he saw fifteen or twenty people, mainly women and children, kneeling around a temple with burning incense. They were praying and crying. They were all killed by shots to the head.

Most of the killings occurred in the southern part of Tu Cung, a sub-hamlet of Xom Lang, which was a home to 700 residents. Xom Lang was erroneously marked on the U.S. military operational maps of Quảng Ngãi Province as Mỹ Lai.

In 1971, during the four-month-long trial, Calley consistently claimed that he was following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina. Despite that, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on March 29, 1971, after being found guilty of premeditated murder of not fewer than twenty people. Two days later, President Richard Nixon made the controversial decision to have Calley released from armed custody at Fort Benning, Georgia, and put under house arrest pending appeal of his sentence. In August 1971, his life sentence was reduced, and in September 1974, he was paroled.

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