Son My 1968. (Photo: Ronald L. Haeberle)
During the Vietnam War, many war correspondents were deployed to cover the conflict. Their photos exposed the brutal reality of this senseless war. Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle was a correspondent who caused a sensation when he published a photo collection of the My Lai or Son My massacre (now located in Tinh Khe Commune, Quang Ngai City).
Four hours in Son My and the truth about the massacre
Recently, Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle visited Quang Ngai Province and agreed to display his collection of photos of the Son My massacre at the Son My Memorial Site. The collection includes 40 black-and-white and 20 color photos depicting the horrific scenes he witnessed.
On March 16, 1968, American troops marched into the village of Son My with the task of killing everyone and destroying and burning everything. Within only four hours, 504 innocent civilians in Son My were murdered by American soldiers, including 60 elderly people, 173 children, 182 women, and 89 middle-aged people.
The Son My massacre caused immense pain to the people of Son My, Vietnam, and shook the world, especially after the photos of the massacre were published in LIFE magazine in 1969 by war correspondent Ronald L. Haeberle.
Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle shared that he was sent by the US military to accompany Company C to take photos of the march on March 16, 1968. At that time, he did not know what was about to happen. Before the operation, the US military had marked Son My on the military map as Pink Ville, meaning a communist village. However, the horrific massacre occurred, with continuous gunfire aimed at women and children.
Within only four hours, Ronald L. Haeberle witnessed hundreds of civilians being massacred throughout the rural village of Son My, including many women and children.
After returning to the US, Ronald L. Haeberle decided to publish the photos he had taken at the Son My massacre in LIFE magazine in 1969 to protest the war. He felt the necessity to let everyone know what was happening in the war.
Via Ronald L. Haeberle's photos, the world became aware of the Son My massacre, and there were international trials to reveal the truth about this massacre.
Quang Ngai Province and Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle sign an agreement to exhibit photo collection of the Son My massacre again on March 8. (Photo: SGGP)
To provide evidence for the Son My massacre, Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle allowed his photos to be displayed again at the Son My Memorial Site in Tinh Khe Commune, Quang Ngai City.
Mr. Nguyen Tien Dung, Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Quang Ngai Province, shared that Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle's photos are proof of the Son My massacre. Of all the massacres that occurred in Vietnam, only Son My has direct photographic evidence, making it particularly unique. It would be a shame if these photos, which serve as concrete proof of the Son My massacre, were not displayed in Son My.
Mr. Nguyen Tien Dung said it is essential to meet Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle, the author of the photo collection. Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle is open-minded and understanding. Quang Ngai Province and Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle signed an agreement on March 8. Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle said that many women had been killed in the massacre, and the signing for exhibiting the photos again on International Women's Day is a meaningful action. The Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism advised the provincial People's Committee and decided to display all the photos before March 16 at the Son My Memorial Site and prepare for the 55th anniversary of the Son My massacre.
Journey back to Vietnam
"I always come back to Son My out of respect for the survivors and those who lost their lives during the four hours I was in Son My," said Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle.
Since the publication of the photos of the massacre and after the establishment of peace, he has returned to the village of Son My many times. For him, the four-hour massacre has been etched in his mind, and every time he returns to Quang Ngai, he feels emotional.
Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle and his photos of the Son My massacre at the Son My Memorial Site. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle)
On March 7, he visited Vo Bam Secondary School in Tinh Khe Commune, Quang Ngai City, the rural area where the Son My massacre occurred, and gave 100 gift sets to the students, each containing a school bag, pen pouch, and a raincoat. This is a heartfelt gesture of him and his friends.
He said he believes in humanitarian programs and tries to help all needy people. In Vietnam, he has helped flood victims and the RENEW project.
During the flood relief campaign for the people of Quang Ngai and Quang Tri to overcome the consequences of the floods at the end of 2020, Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle, with the support of Mr. Ron Carver and Mr. Chuck Searcy, co-founders of the RENEW project, raised over US$28,000 to aid flood victims in the two provinces through the Red Cross. In addition, the program also supported educational equipment for Vo Bam Secondary School.
In September 2022, Mr. Ron Carver supported the Friends of Project RENEW organization in the US to raise funds, including Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle's contribution. This activity has helped RENEW project expand to Quang Ngai Province.
In Quang Ngai Province, Project RENEW carries out humanitarian activities, such as clearing unexploded landmines and bombs, remediating war consequences, supporting war and Agent Orange victims, and raising community awareness to prevent landmine accidents. When RENEW raises $100,000, it will establish activities in Quang Ngai and begin to clear unexploded ordnance as early as 2023.
Mr. Ronald L. Haeberle affirmed that he would continue to support Vietnamese people in places where humanitarian aid is needed.