Seventeen years ago last month, a company of U.S. troops set down in helicopters near this village and launched a search-and-destroy operation called "Pinkville." The result became a benchmark in the U.S. public's shifting perceptions of the Vietnam War, an operation more familiar to the world by another name: the My Lai massacre.
This dirt-poor village about 80 miles south of Da Nang has been renamed Tinh Khe by Vietnam's Communist rulers, who have turned it into a monument condemning the U.S. military role in Vietnam and commemorating the 504 civilians they say were massacred.
By contrast, there is nothing left of the two monuments that were erected in the city of Hue, about 130 miles to the north, by the former South Vietnamese government to honor more than 5,000 civilians killed during the Communists' 1968 Tet offensive. Despite the evidence, the Communists maintain that the Hue massacre never took place.
In this season of remembrances, Vietnam's selective recollection extends to other sites and events associated with the war. Many war cemeteries of the defeated South Vietnamese Army have been bulldozed or otherwise desecrated, their graves sometimes moved by relatives to other places, and sometimes not.
But in the decade since the war ended April 30, 1975, hundreds of "martyrs' cemeteries" have been established to honor the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who fought and died for the Communist side.
In the months and years after U.S. marines and South Vietnamese troops recaptured Hue on Feb. 25, 1968 -- three weeks before the My Lai massacre -- the bodies of low-level bureaucrats, merchants, doctors, clergymen and citizens deemed "reactionary elements" were discovered in and around the city.
Some had been shot or beaten to death. Others had been buried alive. Among the victims were a number of foreigners, including Stephen Miller of the U.S. Information Service, three West German doctors and two French priests.
Nguyen Van, a participant in the 1968 offensive and now a retired official of the provincial People's Committee in Hue, said the South Vietnamese and American authorities "tried to distort our victory." He and other Communist officials maintained that those who died were killed by American bombing, or were slaughtered by the South Vietnamese to discredit the Communists and "get revenge" for the capture of Hue.
"We never had any policy to execute people that way," said Col. Thanh Trong Mot, another participant in the attack. "It was our policy to capture and reeducate. But as for those who did not want to surrender," he added, "we had no other choice but shooting them dead." He did not say how many such persons were killed but asserted that "we achieved our objective of eliminating an important part of the enemy force." He said one aspect of this goal was to "destroy the puppet administration from the village to the city."
In Tinh Khe, better known as My Lai, the March 16, 1968, massacre by troops of the U.S. Army's Americal Division is commemorated by: a stone gate at the entrance to the village, a large monument of a mother raising a clenched fist with her dying or grief-stricken family around her, a museum documenting the massacre -- mainly with American news photographs -- and a stone marker by the ditch where 170 persons reportedly were killed.
At the time, the village was called Son My by the Vietnamese. My Lai was the name of one of its four hamlets, although all were called My Lai and numbered one through four on U.S. military maps.
In the museum, a plaque testifies to the hazards that faced U.S. and South Vietnamese troops in the area. It was awarded in 1974 to the company-sized Son My village guerrilla unit. In the oddly precise -- and seemingly inflated -- style of such awards, it congratulates the unit for putting out of action 16,000 enemy troops, including 900 Americans and 100 South Koreans, in 700 large and small attacks. It also cites, in a long list, the capture of 1,505 weapons and the organization of 1,574 political meetings attended by 95,475 persons.
Another plaque gives a breakdown of the 504 persons reportedly killed, most of them at the hands of a platoon led by Lt. William Calley in Tu Cung hamlet, also known as My Lai 4: 182 women, 173 children, 60 old men and women and 89 persons of "medium age."
Photographs on the walls of the museum, most of them taken by a reporter for a U.S. military publication, Stars and Stripes, accompanying Calley's platoon, show a group of women and children cowering and an old man sitting on the ground and staring up with obvious hatred, reportedly moments before they were shot. Others show bodies in ditches and strewn on roads.
According to the museum curator, Tran Bich, 53, the massacre continued from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the U.S. soldiers withdrew, leaving only five survivors and destroying homes, livestock and domestic animals. "All they left here was blood and fire," Bich said.
The official U.S. account says about 200 persons were killed and cites an officer as intervening to stop the slaughter at 9 a.m., saving the lives of 16 children.
Pham Thi Trinh, a girl of 10 at the time, recalled that as her family was gathering for breakfast, "We suddenly heard artillery shells and we rushed into an underground shelter. Then the Americans arrived, but we didn't know it, so we came out of our shelter and they captured all of us."
She said 11 members of her family were killed: her parents, six brothers and sisters, a grandmother and an uncle and aunt. "Only I survived, because they did not notice I was only injured," she said.
"I never thought such a massacre could be committed," she said, "because we were not guerrillas, but ordinary people."
Now 27, Trinh serves as a guide at the memorial when "delegations," such as foreign journalists, visit. Otherwise, she works on a cooperative farm, like most of the other 9,700 inhabitants of Tinh Khe, trying to coax rice out of the infertile soil of this depressed area in what is now Nghia Binh Province.
In a guest book, one American journalist has expressed the usual thanks for his tour of the memorial, adding his hope that "all massacres by all sides in all wars will be as fully documented as this one."