A two-day exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam opened Friday night in downtown Portland.

The exhibit by Veterans for Peace at 516 Congress St., the site of the Portland Media Center, is intended to honor the hundreds of unarmed civilians killed in the massacre and send an anti-war message.

“If people know about the My Lai massacre already, they are more ready for this,” said artist Mac MacDevitt, who developed the My Lai Memorial Exhibit with the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace. “If it’s not in their historical memory, they’re just sort of knocked off their feet.”

The exhibit includes information panels, photography and art, readings of poetry and letters, and an interactive online “sharing wall” for people to digitally share their personal images and commentary. After viewing the exhibit, visitors are invited to manipulate and interact with sculptural blocks, which MacDevitt said helps some people process what they experienced.

“It’s a hard exhibit. Most everybody has a need to talk,” said MacDevitt, who was a draft resister during the war.

My Lai was one of the most notorious episodes in modern U.S. military history.

On March 16, 1968, the American soldiers of Charlie Company were sent on what they were told was a mission to confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies, but met no resistance and over three to four hours killed 504 unarmed civilians, mostly women, children and elderly men in My Lai and a neighboring community.

It wasn’t until more than a year later that news of the massacre became public.

Mac MacDevitt, right, artist and exhibit developer, helps to set up the Veterans for Peace My Lai Memorial Exhibit at the Portland Media Center on Friday. The exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Lt. William L. Calley Jr., who led the first platoon into My Lai, was convicted in 1971 for the murders of 22 people during the rampage. He was sentenced to life in prison, but President Nixon ordered his sentence reduced and he wound up serving three years under house arrest. Calley was the only one convicted of the 25 men originally charged in the massacre.

Soldiers present at My Lai later testified to an Army investigating commission.

“They went in with blood in their eyes and shot everything that moved,” recalled Hugh Thompson Jr., an Army helicopter pilot who flew support for the mission in My Lai. He and his two-man flight crew are the only servicemen known to have actively intervened to try to stop the killing. They evacuated a handful of Vietnamese civilians on the point of being killed by their countrymen.

Thompson also was one of several soldiers who became whistle-blowers and eventually brought the outrage to public attention.

Historians say the truth about what happened at My Lai intensified growing public opposition to the war, which ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon and the hasty withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

MacDevitt and Veterans for Peace launched the traveling exhibit with more than $15,000 raised online.

It opened in March, the 50th anniversary of My Lai, in San Diego at the Hugh Thompson Veterans for Peace chapter, named for the helicopter pilot who stepped in to stop the massacre.

It has since traveled through multiple states, hosted by Veterans for Peace chapters in Santa Fe, Fresno, San Francisco, Spokane, Iowa City, and most recently, Essex, New York. The tour will continue in the Midwest and South.

The exhibit in Portland will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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