Born In: Miami, Florida, United States
William Calley is a former US Army officer who was held responsible for the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Calley’s early life was rather unremarkable. A college dropout he applied for a job in the US Army but was rejected initially. He was later recruited when the need for more soldiers got acute during the Vietnam War. After his training, he was deployed in South Vietnam. His unit was given the charge of engaging with a battalion of Viet Cong. During an assignment, Calley led his men to the hamlet of My Lai where in 4 hours he and his men killed hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese villagers of Son My. The massacre was initially covered up until a soldier sent letters to the higher authorities in the government and the army. In the ensuing trial, Calley was found guilty. However, due to public sympathy, his sentence was mitigated after 3 years. Calley became a private citizen and specialised in gemstones. He stays away from the public eye and refuses to give interviews to the media.
Also Known As: William Laws Calley Jr.
Spouse/Ex-: Penny Calley
father: William Laws Calley Sr.
children: William Laws Calley III
Born Country: United States
education: Palm Beach State College, Miami Edison High School
William Laws Calley Jr. was born on June 8, 1943, in Miami, Florida. He is the son of William Laws Calley Sr, a US Navy veteran. He has a sister. No mention of his mother’s name is found but it is known that she died of cancer in 1966.
Calley studied at the Miami Edison High School and graduated in 1962. He went on to study at Palm Beach Junior College in 1963 but dropped out after a year due to getting poor grades consistently.
In 1964, he enlisted in the Army but did not make it as he had a hearing defect. Without a college degree, he had to make a living by taking up miscellaneous jobs, such as washing dishes, working on trains, and working as an insurance appraiser.
By 1966, the Vietnam War had escalated and the army needed more young men to enlist. The standards of selection were changed and Calley was called to join the US Army.
After joining the army, William Calley underwent basic combat training in Fort Bliss in Texas which lasted eight weeks. Next, he did eight weeks of advanced individual training at Fort Lewis, Washington as a clerk-typist.
Following his training, he appeared for the Armed Forces Qualification Tests and scored well enough to get accepted into the Officer Candidate School. He started training as a junior officer in March 1967 at Fort Benning which went on for six months. He graduated on September 7, 1967.
Calley received his commission as the second lieutenant in the Infantry division. He was sent to serve in the 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade. To begin his training for deployment to Vietnam he was sent to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
Calley was not popular or respected in the military. His commander Captain Ernest Media called him “Lieutenant Shithead” while his subordinates and colleagues thought that he was incompetent, excitable and desperately wanted fame.
Charlie Company was deployed in Vietnam in December 1967. In January 1968, it set up its base at the Quang Ngai province. Calley’s fellow soldiers recall that he had a complete lack of respect for the local Vietnamese.
In January 1968, Charlie Company along with two other companies was given the task of destroying the 48th Battalion of the Viet Cong.
During February and March 1968, Charlie Company pursued the 48th Battalion which was using guerrilla tactics. In the process, the company took in a lot of injuries due to landmines and booby traps.
On 15 March 1968, Capt Medina told his men that they would have the opportunity to fight face to face with the enemy at My Lai. Everyone in the village was to be considered a fighter or a sympathiser and treated accordingly.
In the morning of March 16, 1968, Lieut. William Calley and his 1st Platoon were dropped from their helicopters at My Lai. The other platoons of the Company were also dropped nearby. The soldiers found only civilians in the village who were not armed. However, the soldiers opened fire at them.
Few soldiers herded together villagers in an irrigation ditch. Calley ordered the soldiers to shoot them. Some of the soldiers obeyed, among them was Private Paul Meadlo. Calley himself started gunning them down with an M-16.
Eyewitnesses have recalled Calley throwing a toddler, who had crawled out, back into the ditch and killing him. He was also seen killing a Buddhist monk who was praying.
Warrant Officer, Hugh Thompson, who was flying his helicopter low over My Lai saw what was going on. He landed and confronted Calley, who told him to “mind his own business”.
Thompson with his mates Lawrence Colburn and Glenn Andreotta blocked the civilians from the soldiers using their helicopter. He radioed to other helicopters and together they took the civilians still alive to the army hospital.
The soldiers killed, raped women, burned and destroyed buildings indiscriminately. By 11 am 500 Vietnamese had been killed. The commanding officer Medina ordered his men to take a lunch break while informing his superiors that some civilians had been killed.
The US Army initially tried to cover up the massacre. It was a 21- year-old helicopter gunner Ronald Ridenhour who came to know of the massacre through his friends and started gathering evidence on his own.
A year after the massacre, Ridenhour sent letters to the Congress, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, Army secretary and Joint Chief of Staff telling them of “2nd Lieutenant Kally” who had ordered his men to gun down helpless civilians.
A fact-finding mission and an enquiry was set up which found photographs taken of the massacre by the army photographer Ronald Haeberle. Based on photographs and witness testimonies, William Calley was charged with premeditated murder by the army.
The trial lasted 18 months and in March 1971, William Calley was found guilty of murdering at least 22 civilians. He was the only one found guilty out of the 26 others who had been initially charged, and was given life imprisonment.
There was, however, a lot of public support for Calley. The White House received millions of letters and Calley himself got thousands of letters every day from people. The public felt that Calley had been made a “scapegoat” when he was only “following orders” from his superiors.
Some states also went on the offensive with the governor of Mississippi threatening to secede from the Union because of Calley’s verdict. With mounting political pressure, President Richard Nixon ordered that Calley be released from prison and put under house arrest.
Calley’s lawyers appealed and successfully decreased the sentence to 20 years. The Secretary of the Army Howard Calloway further reduced the sentence to 10 years. Ultimately Calley was released in 1974 after serving most of his sentence in his apartment.
William Calley moved to Columbus, Georgia, and started living as a private citizen. He married Penny Vick in 1976. They have a son William Laws Calley III who holds a PhD in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech.
Calley wife’s family owned a jewellery shop V.V.Vick Jewelers where he started working after his wedding. He underwent training in gemology and appraising gemstones. In 1980 he got a real estate license despite his criminal record.
Calley’s wife inherited the store in 2004 and stopped paying him a salary. The couple divorced about two years later. Calley had been suffering from prostate cancer and had no means to earn a living so he moved to live with his son.
In 2009, for the first time William Calley talked about the massacre to the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus and apologized for the atrocities he had committed.
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