William Calley

There is little in William Calley's pre-Viet Nam life to suggest that he was a "monster” as many had suspected.  In fact one commentator went so far as to write that “his life could have been lifted from the cover drawing of the Old Saturday Evening Post.”  Others were less generous in their assessment, calling him “a bland young man burdened...with as much ordinariness a any single individual could bear; and almost too much of the conventional and commonplace to retain what is necessary for human identity.”  At a college Calley attended, all anyone could remember was that he paid his rent regularly.

Calley did not command nearly so much respect from his subordinates or superiors in the military. Very few of the people who worked with him on a regular basis liked him. Captain Medina would often address him as “Lieutenant Shithead” in front of his men and rebuff him when addressed by him with a sarcastic, “Listen Sweetheart...”  This had an obvious discrediting effect with his soldiers.  The opinion of him in his platoon was “universally hostile.”  One GI described him as “a glory-hungry person...the kind of person who would have sacrificed all of us for his own personal advancement.”  Others called him “nervous, excitable type who yelled a lot” and “incompetent.” Another GI said of Calley, there was “something about him that rubbed people the wrong way.”  It was even said that “Calley was so disliked by members of the unit that they put a bounty on his head.  None of the men had any respect for him as a military leader.”

Calley’s military career began with basic training, after which he was transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington where he trained as a clerk-typist.  He then successfully applied to Officer Candidacy School and began six months of junior officer training in the middle of March, 1967.  Training was accelerated in the summer when the battalion was to be deployed earlier than had been expected.   Upon arrival in Vietnam, Calley's Charlie Company did not encounter much action.  Calley spent much of his time trying to keep his men from playing with and giving candy to the Vietnamese children.  He said he was afraid of the Vietnamese children and that he hated them.

During his trial, Calley got so much mail from the public that he spent $35 on an automatic letter opener.  When court was not in session, he spent his time with John Sack who conducted long tape recorded interviews with Calley for a book to be written in Calley’s name.  To protect Calley from too many media questions, Sack would fill the five court room chairs that had been allocated the defendant with “pretty young women” who were often invited back to his apartment for coffee.  During the trial Calley underwent numerous psychological exams which all revealed that he was “normal” and did not suffer from and psychological disease that would account for his behavior.  Although not revealed under oath, some of his doctors claimed that he told them that he thought of killing the Vietnamese people in the same way he thought of killing animals.

After deliberating for 79 hours and 57 minutes, the jury returned a verdict.  They had found Calley guilty of premeditated murder of 22 of the villagers of My Lai.  One juror claimed that they “had labored long and hard to find some way, some evidence, or some flaw in the testimony so we could find Lt. Calley innocent.”  Before the jury reconvened to decide his punishment, Calley was allowed to address the jury and said, “Yesterday you stripped me of all my honor, please by your actions that you take here today, don’t strip future soldiers of their honor-I beg you.”  The prosecution responded that Calley had stripped himself of his honor by murdering women and children.  After seven hours the jury sentenced Calley to life of hard labor.  In the end, he only served days in a Fort Benning stockade before being placed under house arrest.  His sentence was repeatedly reduced. Finally, his sentence was commuted to time served by President Nixon. He was paroled in November, 1974.

Calley recently retired from his job as the manager at his father-in-law’s jewelery store.  He avoids interviews about My Lai--unless he is paid to give them.