Haeberle returned to Duc Pho, where his regiment stationed in 1968.
This is the second time Haeberle returned to this land. In 2000, he quietly returned to Son My for the first time, as a tourist. Perhaps he was afraid to face locals and was afraid that they did not forgive an American like him.
Several months after the massacre, Haeberle left the army to live in Ohio. After his photos were published on magazines, Ron was invited to clubs, seminars and universities to talk about the Vietnam War. At the same time, the anti-Vietnam War campaign was launched in the US and quickly spread to the world.
However, if Seymour Hersh became famous for his articles about My Lai, Haeberle lived very quietly.
Many years after the massacre, many correspondents questioned: why Haeberle’s photos only focused on dead or not dead yet people (these photos are often captioned: after this picture was taken, people in the photo was shot to dead)? There is no photo featuring American soldiers shooting or killing Son My people.
Haeberle kept silent.
Haeberle at the site where he took pictures of the massacre. Behind him is the stele
with the name of over 100 villages who were shot to dead right at the place
where Ron is standing and the field around.
Until 40 years later, in November 2009, he admitted that he destroyed many photos which featuring US soldiers killing Vietnamese civilians. “I was there. I was one of them. All of us are guilty,” he said.
He lived for several decades in Ohio as a production manager of the Premier Industrial Corp. He was retired for many years. He is now a member of cycling, skiing and kayak clubs.
In 2000, he pedaled a bicycle from the ancient town of Hoi An to Son My.
On October 25, 2011, Haeberle returned to Duc Pho, where he garrisoned and where US soldiers started the Son My massacre.
This time Haeberle went to Son My with Robert Hoard, a teammate in his cycling club. After the trip to Son My, the two men rode bicycle to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and around Vietnam’s Mekong Delta before returning to the US. VietNamNet’s Hoang Huong talked with Haeberle two days after he came to Son My.
The photo of the old man and a child killed in the morning of March 16, 1968.
Haeberle’s story about the My Lai massacre has been published on many newspapers but many Vietnamese people, particularly those who were born after the war, still want to hear it directly from a witness like him.
At the time the My Lai massacre occurred, I was about to leave the army and return to the US. From the LZ Dottie base (which is in Quang Ngai province), we flew to My Lai on a helicopter.
The helicopter landed on a field outsider My Lai village. When I arrived there, I heard a lot of shooting. I and other soldiers jumped out of the plane. I thought that I was in a battlefield but very soon I felt something stranger there. It did not seem to be a battle. I saw only American soldiers shooting on mobile targets. There was no shooting from the other side. I asked myself: what was happening?
Another helicopter landed. Two groups of soldiers moved into the village and began shooting villagers. They shot every moving target, including men, women, kids and cattle. But I did not see any signal of Viet Cong.
When I approached nearer to the village, I witnessed a woman who was trying to stand up from a pile of dead bodies. She was injured but she could not stand up. I did not know whether she was a Viet Cong or not but she was a moving target and a soldier killed her by a gunshot to her head.
At the same time, other US troops walked around to seek the traces of Viet Cong or weapons.
After that I saw an old man and two kids approaching. They were the first Vietnamese I saw in a near distance. Immediately, they were shot to dead. I was really shocked because he did not look like a Viet Cong, more like two kids. Are they in one of your photos?
The tomb of victims who were killed on the village road. Over half
of them were children from 1 to 15 years old.
Yes. There is only one boy in that photo but actually, the second boy lied very near from the first boy.
A stele in My Lai writes: Here American troops arranged machine guns to massacre civilians who were gathered on the front field. So civilians were shot by machine guns and guns of infantrymen?
On the road I walked into the village, I saw American solders shooting and burning houses on the left. I did not see machine guns. Perhaps that’s the way Vietnamese called M16 guns. Actually I heard that that day US soldiers brought machine guns (M30) with them but I did not know whether other groups used them or not.
Shooting, crying and shouting was everywhere. I began taking pictures.
In another photo, entitled “The elder brother shields his sister”, I saw the arm of someone. Is that the arm of a soldier who prevented you from taking photo? Were you hindered from shooting these pictures?
That is exactly the arm of a soldier. You can also see his helmet. He was behind me at that time. I did not know how he reacted. My task was taking photo while his task is shooting. Some soldiers said: be careful, there is one with cameras. Just it. The My Lai massacre was exposed in 1969 by journalists and your photos. Why did you decide to launch those photos? Did you face any obstacle from the US army?
I was a voluntary soldier. While I was in the army, I could not show those photos. There were many war journalists at that time. If I launched the pictures, they would have been hindered from doing their job. In an interview, you said that you were most obsessed by seeing American soldiers jumped on the back of buffaloes and stabbed them by bayonets. What happened to these soldiers?
Haeberle and Tran Van Duc’s family burn incense at the tomb.
Yes, this was abnormal act. I could not explain what happened. Previously, some American soldiers were killed near My Lai and perhaps remaining soldiers suffered from great pressure and tenseness. That act was likely the way they relieved their stress. A local who survived in the massacre said that American soldiers sometimes entered the village. They seemed to be friendly to villagers and even gave candies to kids. Villagers said that if they knew that American soldiers were so brutal like that, they would have hidden themselves. As a veteran, could you tell us what happened among soldiers?
American soldiers used to be friendly with villages but in several consecutive days, some soldiers treaded in mines and mortally wounded so they were angry. They blamed villages to indirectly cause the death of their comrades and they revenged.
The interview switches to a controversial topic: whether Tran Van Duc, a Vietnamese origin in Germany, and his younger sister Tran Thi Ha are characters in the photo entitled “Eldery brother shields his sister by his body” or not.
This content will be introduced in the next article. Hoang Huong