By Kevin Shannahan
The commission charged with renaming Army installations named after Confederate leaders has finished its work and come out with its recommendations, ranging from Fort Liberty for Fort Bragg to Louisiana’s Fort Polk being renamed after Sgt. William Henry Johnson. I would have renamed Fort Bragg after General James Gavin, but Fort Liberty is a fitting name for an Army of free men and women carrying America’s faith and honor against her enemies.
Louisiana’s Camp Beauregard, named after Confederate general Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard, who led the opening salvo of the Civil War in the attack on Fort Sumter, was not renamed as part of the commission’s duties as it belongs to the Louisiana National Guard. The Louisiana National Guard is nonetheless soliciting suggestions from the public for renaming the camp. I have a suggestion.
Camp Beauregard should be renamed for a true Louisiana hero, Major Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr., United States Army. As a 25-year-old warrant officer and helicopter pilot on his first tour of duty in Vietnam, Thompson stopped the My Lai Massacre. His actions that day in stopping the killing and rescuing survivors displayed an incredible amount of physical and moral courage, but it was his dogged insistence on reporting the killings to his superiors and refusal to take the easy way out and give in to pressure to let the incident go that showed even greater heroism.
Thompson and his crew were flying in the vicinity of the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968, when they noticed a large number of bodies, some heaped in a ditch. They further saw that the bodies were of infants, children, and women, not military-aged men. Thompson landed his helicopter and confronted the platoon commander, Lieutenant William Calley. One of Calley’s soldiers fired into the ditch full of bodies, killing those still alive. After a tense exchange with Calley, Thompson flew off. He and his crew, along with two other helicopters, rescued villagers who had fled. One of his crewmen, Specialist Glenn Urban Andreotta, who was killed in action later in the war, stepped into a pile of bodies to rescue a child trapped underneath the dead. Thompson flew the child to a hospital. At one point, he landed his helicopter between villagers and American soldiers and ordered his crewmembers to point their machine guns at the soldiers, threatening to open fire if they did not stop the wanton killing.
Thompson immediately reported the massacre when he landed. That put a stop to the attacks, but no further action was taken. The Army was not interested in investigating war crimes. In fact, Thompson was presented with a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions that day in rescuing children, but the citation contained falsehoods stating that the rescue took place under enemy fire, when in fact, there was none. Thompson threw away the fabricated citation.
When the massacre became public, Thompson was called to testify before Congress where he was excoriated by several Congressmen for threatening to fire on the troops at My Lai. He was to receive numerous death threats over the years, having dead animals thrown on his porch among other indignities. He paid a high price for his integrity, far higher than any of the high-ranking Army officers who tried to cover up the massacre. Only Lieutenant Calley was ever convicted of a crime and his punishment was commuted by President Nixon.
Hugh Thompson continued to fly helicopters in combat in Vietnam. He was shot down four times, the last crash breaking his back and ending his combat career. He retired from the Army and lived quietly in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he served his fellow veterans working for the Louisiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He died of cancer on January 6, 2006, in the Veterans’ Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana at the age of 62. His friend Lawrence Colburn, one of his crewmen that fateful day, was by his side. He is buried in Lafayette, Louisiana.
He was a man of tremendous moral and physical courage. In the face of threats, pressure, and ostracism, he did the right thing not just at the moment of decision, but in the hard, lonely aftermath. Hugh Clowers Thompson is eminently deserving of having Camp Beauregard renamed in his honor!
The link to the Louisiana Army Guard page where one may nominate an individual to be considered for Camp Beauregard’s renaming follows. Please take a moment o nominate Hugh Thompson.