This tranquil rural spot was the setting for one of the most horrific crimes of the American War: a massacre committed by US troops that killed 504 villagers, many of them elderly people and children on 16 March 1968. The deeply poignant Son My Memorial was constructed as a monument to their memory.
The war crime was one of the pivotal moments of the conflict, shaping public perceptions in the USA and across the world. As Life magazine put it, 'the American people reacted to the massacre of My Lai with horror, shame and shock, but also with disbelief'.
Centred on a dramatic stone sculpture of an elderly woman holding up her fist in defiance, a dead child in her arms, the monument rises high above the landscape.
Surrounding the main sculpture, scenes have been recreated in peaceful gardens to reflect the aftermath of that fateful day. Burnt-out shells of homes stand in their original locations, each marked with a plaque listing the names and ages of the family that once resided there. The concrete connecting the ruins is coloured to represent a dirt path, and indented with the heavy bootprints of American soldiers and the bare footprints of fleeing villagers.
The massacre was painstakingly documented by a US military photographer, and these graphic images are now the showcase of a powerful museum on-site. Inevitably, the content is incredibly harrowing: villagers are shown cowering from troops, there are corpses of children and limbless victims. The display ends on a hopeful note, chronicling the efforts of the local people to rebuild their lives afterwards. A section honours the GIs who tried to stop the carnage, shielding a group of villagers from certain death, and those responsible for blowing the whistle.
The road to Son My passes through particularly beautiful countryside: rice paddies, cassava patches and vegetable gardens shaded by casuarinas and eucalyptus trees. However, if you look closely you can still make out the odd bomb crater, and the bare hilltops are testimony to the continuing environmental devastation caused by Agent Orange.
The best way to get to Son My is by motorbike (around 120,000d including waiting time) or regular taxi (about 330,000d return). From Quang Ngai head north on Ð Quang Trung (Hwy 1) and cross the long bridge over the Tra Khuc River. Take the first right (eastward, parallel to the river) where a triangular concrete stela indicates the way and follow the road for 12km.