U.S. veterans, Japanese mark 1968 Vietnam massacre

MY LAI, Vietnam (Reuters) - Japanese survivors of atomic bombs and American war veterans calling for peace joined hundreds of villagers on Sunday in prayers to mark 40 years since the worst U.S. atrocity of the Vietnam War.

On March 16, 1968, the men of Charlie Company entered the hamlet of My Lai in central Quang Ngai province and killed 504 civilians, mostly women and children.

My Lai came to symbolize in the United States all that was wrong with the Vietnam conflict, which ended in 1975 when communist North Vietnam took over U.S.-backed South Vietnam, unifying the country.

Truong Thi Le, who survived the massacre near the village’s observation tower, where 102 people were killed that morning, said she stills suffers horrific memories.

“I got some rice tree to cover myself and lay down on dead people,” Le said. “There were five bodies on the ground who were seriously wounded and the blood poured all around.”

The massacre is marked every year by residents and the government. This year, villagers organized a Buddhist ritual ceremony for the souls of the dead before local officials laid wreaths to show their respect to the victims.

Wreaths were placed in front of the My Lai Memorial and included foreign guests such as former American helicopter door gunner, Lawrence Colburn, who together with pilot Hugh Thompson rescued some Vietnamese during the massacre.

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“No one wins in war and civilians always suffer,” Colburn said. “The only way to prevent tragedy in war is to prevent war,” said Colburn, who also referred to the U.S. war in Iraq, calling for it to end as soon as possible.

A Japanese delegation of Hibakusha with five survivors of the World War Two atomic bombings in Japan united with survivors at My Lai in a plea for the end of weapons of mass destruction and peace in the world.

“The tragedy of the bombing (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in Japan is very similar to Vietnam’s problem with Agent Orange,” said Dr Shoji Sawada, representative and director of the Japan Council Against Atomic Bombs. “I want to share this knowledge with the future generations so that it is not repeated again.”

U.S. veteran Mike Boehm played a violin in front of the monument as he has done for the past 14 years on the anniversary.

“I play my violin because of the sadness that I feel and playing the violin speaks for me better than words can because the music comes deeper from my heart,” said Boehm, who helps run humanitarian projects at My Lai founded by the Quakers of Madison, Wisconsin.

Reporting by Nguyen Van Vinh, writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Charles Dick