My Lai Hero Honored

"I went for 30 years without ever saying a word about it," says Vietnam veteran Hugh Thompson.

He didn't say one word about 1968, the year when Thompson piloting a chopper over Vietnam, stopped a murderous rampage in the village of My Lai.

As CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports, U.S. soldiers were burning it down hut by hut, rounding up civilians and gunning them down in cold blood: old men, women, even babies.

"I'll never get that out of my mind, because this is not what the American soldier does," says Thompson.

So he landed his chopper in front of the advancing troops and helped air lift 11 Vietnamese civilians to safety - all who were left.

"It had to happen right then, cause they were fixin' to die," says Thompson.

In My Lai, they still mourn the 504 people who did die that day.

When '60 Minutes' brought Thompson and his door gunner Larry Colburn back there in 1999, they were treated as heroes.

"Sorry we couldn't have helped more that day," Hugh said at the time.

But Thompson's act of conscience was viewed with a sneer back home.

He was hauled before Congress and treated like a traitor, he says.

Even after the Lieutenant who ordered the massacre had been court-martialed, Thompson still received death threats.

Only public pressure forced the Pentagon to recognize Thompson with the Soldier's Medal in 1998, an honor that left a bad taste in his mouth.

But on Thursday night, that all changes.

He's to be inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame, a medal not from the government that once scorned his actions, but from fellow pilots who understand.

"He took a personal risk for himself and his crew to stop something that he knew was fundamentally wrong," says retired Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Harrison.

He is no longer a pariah. In fact, he's a sought out speaker with a lesson he has lived.

"That little ol' saying that you can make a difference is true," he says.

Even if that difference isn't recognized for years.

  • Jaime Holguin

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