Photographer Ron Haeberle

Article published by The Plain Dealer 40 years after the My Lai massacre

My Lai photographer Ron Haeberle admits he destroyed pictures of soldiers in the act of killing

Published: Friday, November 20, 2009, 12:01 AM

By Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer

Ron Haeberle

Ron Haeberle

“When the photographs of the My Lai massacre were first published, many could not believe what they depicted. One reason was this: They did not show American soldiers in the act of killing.

For a long time, the man who shot the pictures, Northeast Ohio native Ron Haeberle, said no such images existed. Now, in one of his only interviews with the U.S. media since the photos were published in 1969, he has acknowledged that he did have pictures of the shootings in progress but destroyed them.

Photos published by The Plain Dealer 40 years ago, and those Haeberle gave to the Army as part of its criminal inquiry, showed terrified victims in the moments before they were killed and their bodies after death.

But there were no photos of soldiers actually shooting them.

In 1969, Haeberle told The Plain Dealer that he had made no effort to photograph actual killings. He evaded the issue during interviews with Army investigators.

Last week, he said something distinctly different. “I shot pictures of the shooting,” he said. “But those photographs were destroyed.”

By the Army?

“By me.”

Selection from The Plain Dealer Nov, 20, 1969, 5-B

Blurb featured on page 5-B from Nov. 20 1969 issue of The Plain Dealer

Haeberle was using two cameras that day, an Army camera and his own. “What happened was, I shot on a 36-exposure roll of film,” with his own camera. “I just went ahead and processed everything. I had actual photos of actual guys who were doing the shooting and stuff like that.

“I never showed those. No, no, no.”

He paused. “I mean, I was there in the operation, but I’m not gonna point a finger at some soldier out there and have him, you know, put up. No. We were all guilty.

“So I’m just as guilty as anyone else in the cover-up. I’ll admit to that.”

When the Army questioned him about the photographs he had taken and what they showed, he says, “I answered them honestly. But I never said the words, ‘I destroyed them.’ “

Over the years, occasionally people have asked him why he didn’t try to stop the killing or if he was afraid he would be shot.

“I had no fear of that,” Haeberle said.

And he’s been asked if he wishes he had done anything differently in My Lai.

“It’s hard to say in the aftermath,” he says. “People say, ‘If I was there, I’d have done this.’ You don’t know. Until you’re in that reality. You never know.””



  1. What is the subject of this article?
  2. When photos of the My Lai massacre were first published, why were many Americans in disbelief?
  3. Why does Haeberle say he destroyed the photos?
  4. Do you think the photos Haeberle destroyed would have played a crucial role in the initial investigations? Explain why or why not.
  5. Haeberle makes a powerful statement when he says,

We were all guilty…So I’m just as guilty as anyone else in the cover-up. I’ll admit to that.”

          After having read this excerpt from The Plain Dealer, do you believe Haeberle is guilty in the cover-up of the My Lai massacre? Explain why or why not.