Calley a publicity-shy store manager 25 years after My Lai

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- His employees at a jewelry store call him 'Rusty,' but those who remember the Vietnam War know him as William Laws Calley Jr., the Army lieutenant convicted in the My Lai massacre of 1968.

Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, Calley led Charlie Company, a unit of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division, into the Vietnamese village of Tu Cung, later to be known as My Lai.


The Army ultimately conceded that in the four hours after Charlie Company entered My Lai, it killed between 175 and 400 unarmed old men, women and children. It was the worst atrocity of which U.S. troops have ever been accused.

But Calley, 49, now the manager of V.V. Vick Jeweler in the Cross Country Plaza mall in the west Georgia city of Columbus, was the only person found guilty of anything. In March 1971, a court-martial board found him guilty of the murders of 22 Vietnamese civilians and sentenced him to life at hard labor.


President Richard Nixon ordered him placed under house arrest at Fort Benning, Ga., rather than being sent to the stockade while his case was reviewed, and he lived that way for nearly three years.

In 1974 Army Secretary Harold Calloway reduced the sentence to 10 years. By the end of the year, Calley was released on parole and cashiered from the Army. Calley carried an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 but the high court refused to review it.

In 1976, Calley married Peggy Vick, the daughter of the owner of the jewelry store, and became its manager. Calley, after a brief attempt to go on the lecture circuit, became reclusive.

Many people in Columbus know him well enough to say hello. But it is difficult to find anyone who knows anything about his life now. Calley will not talk with reporters.

Most residents of Columbus, the home of the Army's Fort Benning, have closed ranks around Calley. It is nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn't think Calley was made a scapegoat and who is willing to help pick at the scars of the past.

'He's a good man, a fine man,' says the barber at the Cross Country Plaza. 'Let it alone. Don't drag all that stuff out again.'


Many say Calley fell victim to an Army forced in those days to operate as a corporation, with body counts as the bottom line.

Those who were in Vietnam, regardless of whether they condone the massacre at My Lai, say no civilian can ever understand.

At the Tick Tock Shop a few doors from Vick's, the clockmaker is a retired first sergeant who saw action in Korea and Vietnam. The man, who would not give his name, said Calley 'is a hell of a fine fellow and he got a bum rap.... You oughta bury it. This stuff is hard enough to live with.'

What stuff is that, sergeant?

'You ever kill a man?' he demanded. 'Then you don't know what I'm talking about.

'You ever see enough blood to bathe in? Then you don't know what it's like.'

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