Lawrence Manley "Larry" Colburn (1949-2016)
December 17, 2016 5:54 PM   Subscribe

"The Soldier's Medal is awarded to Mr. Lawrence Colburn for heroic performance on March 16, 1968 in saving the lives of at least ten Vietnamese civilians during the unlawful massacre of noncombatants by American forces at My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. Specialist Colburn was serving as a door gunner on a helicopter which landed in the line of fire between American ground troops and fleeing Vietnamese civilians to prevent their murder.

"Specialist Colburn, at the risk of his personal safety, provided cover for the pilot as he went forward of the American lines and confronted the leader of the American forces, and subsequently coaxed the Vietnamese civilians out of a bunker to enable their evacuation.
"Later, as the helicopter was lifting off after seeing the evacuation of the Vietnamese civilians, Specialist Colburn spotted movement in a ditch filled with bodies south of My Lai Four. The helicopter again landed, and Specialist Colburn, assisted by the crew chief, retrieved a wounded child from the pile of bodies. The child was then flown to the safety of a hospital at Quang Ngai.
"Specialist Colburn's efforts resulted in an order for the cease-fire at My Lai and an end to the killing of innocent civilians. Specialist Colburn's heroism exemplifies the highest standards of personal courage and ethical conduct, reflecting distinct credit upon him and the United States Army.
"Signed, Togo D. West, Jr., Secretary of the Army."

The four-volume Report of the Department of the Army Review of the Preliminary Investigations of the My Lai Incident, by Lieutenant General William R. Peers.
Previously on MetaFilter: 2006, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015.
posted by haltingproblemsolved (43 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I meant to add these links to the post:
- Pilot Hugh Thompson's 2003 lecture (PDF, 28 pages) at the United States Naval Academy.
- The 2004 60 Minutes episode (Flash) about Colburn, Thompson, and Glenn Andreotta, who was killed in action three weeks later.
- Interviews with Colburn in 2009 and 2011.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:58 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by jim in austin at 6:01 PM on December 17, 2016


Great post; thanks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:01 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by idb at 6:08 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by bryon at 6:14 PM on December 17, 2016


Washington Post obituary

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posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:14 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by mecran01 at 6:15 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by haiku warrior at 6:24 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by mochapickle at 6:42 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by crush-onastick at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2016


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fuck calley, and fuck powell
posted by j_curiouser at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by adamsc at 7:05 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by Etrigan at 7:14 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by XMLicious at 7:33 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by TwoStride at 7:59 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by praemunire at 8:12 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by virago at 8:37 PM on December 17, 2016


Well done. An exceptional American.
posted by spacewrench at 8:51 PM on December 17, 2016


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posted by pt68 at 9:02 PM on December 17, 2016


I'm Canadian, in my early '50s, and remember Lt. Calley popping up in media during the 1970s from time to time. It floored me decades later when I found out it was an American helicopter crew who put an end to the massacre. The immense amount of courage displayed by Colburn, Thompson, and Andreotta still moves me almost to tears. So, thank you for showing the best of what we can be

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posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:17 PM on December 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


fuck calley, and fuck powell

And fuck Nixon for pardoning Calley.
posted by cazoo at 9:37 PM on December 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


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posted by Puddle at 9:50 PM on December 17, 2016


Great post haltingproblemsolved, thanks for putting it up. Whenever I hear the empty platitude "Thank you for your service" I think about these true heroes. These were truly brave, heroic men whose actions should be more known.
posted by X4ster at 10:12 PM on December 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


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posted by Joe in Australia at 10:25 PM on December 17, 2016


Thank you for this post. It is essential to remember the names of the heroes long after the names of the villains have been cast into the dust and forgotten. I wrote up an account of this for my FB and I mentioned the event, these men, and not those who perpetrated the massacre.

This extract from his lecture (the pull from Wikipedia) nails it:

"Combat is chaotic. Combat is primal. And something surfaces in you, especially when you see people close to you fall. And it's very difficult to control. Your job as young officers is to monitor those men who are pulling the trigger to make sure that that primal instinct, you have to keep it in check somehow."

It is your job, as an officer, to hold that monster in check. It is not easy but there is supposed to be a difference between an army and a mob, as much as there is between an officer and a thug. It's not always the case and he makes the point that to seek the rank is to accept the responsibility.

Rest well, sir.
posted by nfalkner at 10:47 PM on December 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


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posted by Doktor Zed at 12:13 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by shibori at 12:25 AM on December 18, 2016


My Lai always comes to mind when I hear people talking about how America lost its innocence in Baghdad or Aghanistan or Fallujah or last month or whatever ...

bluntly put: America was never innocent, same as every other nation state that has ever troubled the planet.



r.i.p. Larry Colburn.
posted by philip-random at 12:58 AM on December 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


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posted by she's not there at 1:41 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by GrammarMoses at 4:03 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by hydropsyche at 5:14 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by ridgerunner at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2016


Why are so many comments pulled here?
This massacre, horrible as it was, seems at odds with what we expect in war from Americans, and yet we learn very often about the atrocities done by enemy combatants but cover up a lot of what is done by our own forces.
posted by Postroad at 9:17 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by doctornemo at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2016


Why are so many comments pulled here?

Postroad, the comment that consists of a single period is a MetaFilter convention in response to posts about the death of a person who went above and beyond in life.
posted by virago at 9:59 AM on December 18, 2016


Colin Powell has a Soldier's Medal too, but he got it in 1968, less than a month after he earned it.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2016


And? It was for rescuing his comrades from a burning helicopter, so it wasn't controversial.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2016


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posted by Become A Silhouette at 10:49 AM on December 18, 2016


I did a report on My Lai in high school (possibly earlier). I have no idea how I found out about it, but I was definitely too young to be concerned about such historical artifacts and I have to wonder what the librarians thought of my inquiries. I have a lot of my school papers still and I want to pull them down and see if I mentioned Colburn. Regardless, that experience either found something in me or started my path toward punk rock and rebellion.

The dude was 19 at the time. I can't even imagine. Major props.

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posted by rhizome at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


Lawrence Coburn and Colin Powell's Soldier's Medal awards are coincidental:
Army service, Vietnam War tour, 1968, helicopters, and saving lives.
Their lives intersect at My Lai, too, but dissimilarly; one a hero, one a tool.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:19 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by pjmoy at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2016


. There are probably not many like you left in the world.
posted by Mittenz at 7:55 PM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by storybored at 10:29 PM on December 18, 2016


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