29. A Good Man in a Bad Place
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr. (1943 – 2006), was part Cherokee, descended from survivors of the Trail of Tears. Raised in Georgia, Thompson was a Boy Scout from a religious family whose children were taught discipline and integrity. In their corner of the segregated South, the Thompsons stood out for their opposition to racism, and for standing up for and helping people of color. In his youth, Thompson, Jr., helped his family make ends meet by plowing fields and working in a funeral home, before he joined the US Navy in 1961. He was honorably discharged in 1964, returned to Georgia, studied to become a licensed funeral home director, and settled in to raise a family.
When the Vietnam War heated up, Thompson felt obligated to serve his country, and enlisted in the US Army in 1966. He was trained as a helicopter pilot, and was sent to Vietnam. On March 16th, 1968, Thompson flew an OH-23 Raven observation helicopter in support of a search-and-destroy operation near Son My when he realized that a massacre was taking place below. He landed and tried to get some soldiers to help wounded civilians, but they offered to finish them off, instead. Their commanding officer, a Lieutenant William Calley, brushed Thompson off. So he took off in his helicopter, frantically radioed the chain that a massacre was taking place, and set about saving as many people as he could.