Calley, William L., Jr.

Calley, William L. (Laws), Jr.

(1943–  ) soldier; born in Miami, Fla. A college dropout, he worked as a dishwasher and railroad switchman before enlisting in 1966. Commissioned a lieutenant through Officers Training School, he was posted to South Vietnam. On March 16, 1968, he led a platoon into the hamlet of My Lai and supervised his men as they massacred some 500 elderly men, women, and children. In 1971 he was convicted of the murder of 22 Vietnamese and was sentenced to life imprisonment; President Richard Nixon commuted the sentence, first to 20 years and, in 1974, to time served. Calley slipped back into civilian life as an insurance agent, and many came to feel he had been made a scapegoat for all the atrocities of the Vietnam War. General Westmoreland probably summed it up best when he said, "Had it not been for educational deferments… Calley probably would never have been an officer. The Army had to lower its standards."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.