Atonement

“It’s wrong, man… I feel tremendous hurt behind what happened… I should’ve took the initiative to stop it all… I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.”

That was former Atlanta Falcons football star Michael Vick on 60 Minutes apologizing for participating in a dog fighting operation on his property.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai.”

Lt. William L. Calley, the only American soldier to be convicted of killing 22 civilians during the 1968 massacre of 500 men, women and children in My Lai, Vietnam told his story for the first time before a small group of local Kiwanis Club members last week.

In his 60 Minutes interview, sports anchor James Brown asked Vick what he cried about when he was in prison for the last two years.

“What I did, you know, being away from my family, letting so many people down. I let myself down, not being out on the football field, being in a prison bed… That wasn’t my life… And all because the so-called culture that I thought was right, that I thought it was cool… It all led to me laying in a prison bunk by myself…”

“Who do you blame for all of this?” Brown asked.

“I blame me,” Vick said.

According to an Associated Press report, “Frustrated U.S. troops came to My Lai on a ‘search and destroy’ mission, looking for elusive Vietcong guerrillas.  Although there were no reports of enemy fire, the U.S. troops began mowing down villagers and setting fire to their homes.

“Though sentenced to life in prison,” the AP report said, “Calley ended up serving three years under house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his sentence.

“Calley didn’t deny taking part in the slayings on March 16, 1968, but insisted he was following orders from his superior, Capt. Ernest Medina… When asked if he broke the law by obeying an unlawful order, the newspaper reported, Calley replied:  ‘If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them — foolishly, I guess,’ Calley said at the time.

Apologies should be thoughtful, respectful and sincere.  They should acknowledge responsibility for doing wrong and express a willingness to work to repair the damage.  It’s a personal act that should demonstrate an understanding that we are all interconnected, and within that connection lies a heartfelt desire to strive to become more considerate and respectful of others.

In Michael Vick’s case, he has pledged to be an active part of the Humane Society by visiting schools and sharing his story with kids.

“Michael, is this you talking?  Or the big team of attorneys, image-shapers and the like,” Brown asked.

“This is Mike Vick. People will see my work out there, my work in the communities and my work with the Humane Society and how I really do care now, how I care about animals,” Vick said.

A lot of people will be watching, including the NFL commissioner’s office who has delayed permanently reinstating Vick pending his actions.

And what of William Calley, who is now 66 years old?

Lennie Pease, the Kiwanis president said, “You could see that there was extreme remorse for everything that happened.  He was very, very soft-spoken. It was a little difficult to hear him. You could see he was labored answering questions.”

“I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed,” Calley said, “for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

“The beginning of atonement,” the British poet Lord Byron wrote, “is the sense of its necessity.”

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