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Published: July 27th 2018
The stone inscription lists the names of the people who lived there. People are working in the rice fields beyond the fence.
2 hours in a suicide van (3 1/2 hours in Google Directions) from Hoi An brought me to this lovely little city on the Song Tra Khuc River. It's worth a day or two just for exploring its great energy, even if you don't intend to depress yourself by visiting the Mai Lai Massacre site.
I borrowed a bicycle from my guesthouse (Thanh Lich- a wonderful place to stay, with such friendly and helpful owners) and rode 10k through the thick air to the memorial, and a few km past it, since it's a challenge to find.
The Vietnamese call the hamlet Son My, not Mai Lai. It's a dollar to enter the grounds, an attractive garden built around the foundation of the razed homes, the centerpiece of which is unfortunately a towering communist propaganda statue. I've posted a photo of a smaller, different statue that focuses on the humanity of the tragedy. I was the only visitor.
The museum could use a facelift. Some of the exhibits resemble dioramas constructed by children. And some of the descriptions ooze North Korean-style verbiage, which sullies the memorial, since the facts and photos speak for themselves. Surprisingly, the curators also
focus on the American helicopter pilots that saved some of the villagers and threatened to fire on anyone they saw killing civilians, which doesn't exactly follow the overall narrative.
There is a plaque in the entryway of the names of the 504 civilians who were killed there. It includes their ages. Plenty were children, even infants.
As far as I know, there is not a similar plaque near Hue, where Northern Vietnamese troops killed 2,800 civilians after the Tet Offensive.
The guest book had some anecdotes from American veterans, including some who were there, and even some famous names, like Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried.
I've seen plenty of museums in Latin America that highlight American war crimes, but there's something about the intimacy of this event that makes it a particularly shameful piece of our history that I'm sure doesn't make the history books.
There are more photos below.
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