Agreement Reached to Retract Story that Decorated Vietnam War Hero Participated in Civilian Massacre
GrayRobinson Litigators Present Irrefutable Evidence that Thomas K. Equels and His Unit Were Not Present During Mission
By: Equels Law Firm
In a statement released by Mr. Equels, he noted:
“I was outraged when I read Turse’s account of the mission, knowing that I and most of my unit were fighting an invasion of the North Vietnamese Army more than 200 miles away from the purported massacre. I never attacked civilians and our unit strictly adhered to the rules of war and the rules of engagement. Turse and his publisher should be ashamed and must be held accountable for such false statements. This part of his book is not history or fair journalism.”
At the time of the incident described by Turse, Tom Equels was a 19-year-old Army Warrant Officer, pilot of a Cobra AH-1G helicopter gunship, assigned to the 48th Assault Helicopter Company known as the “Blue Stars.” On April 4, 1972, Equels was flying in a completely different area of Vietnam than that described by Turse in the book. At that time, Equels was fighting in a desperate effort to blunt an all-out attack by five divisions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) streaming across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The NVA enemy force consisted of tens of thousands of enemy soldiers, supported by hundreds of tanks and sophisticated anti-aircraft units. Equels’ actions and location on April 4th were fully documented by unit records, sworn witness statements and even a presidential citation for bravery. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism along the DMZ defending against this NVA offensive.
Turse and the publisher had no choice, based on the irrefutable evidence, but to acknowledge Equels was not part of the alleged mission recounted in the book. “The allegations regarding Tom Equels and our unit in this book are wholly without merit,” said Colonel John Hoffman, who as a captain in 1972 was one of the senior flight officers of the Blue Stars. “Equels and the pilots of the 48th fought valiantly in some of the deadliest battles in the history of helicopter warfare, suffering hundreds of combat-related casualties. Their service deserves the utmost respect.”
Equels’ testimony and the record were clear: when villages were targeted, they were typically in areas occupied by enemy ground troops. “Turse taking testimony out of context fails to mention the undisputed record that such targets were in areas occupied by enemy ground troops and that the missions were always based upon clear lawful orders,” said Equels, “and suggesting, as Turse did, that I participated in killing these civilians is an outright lie.”
For his combat service during the Vietnam War, Equels was also awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and fifteen Air Medals, three with the “V” device for valor. He also received a Cross of Gallantry, with Silver Star device, from the Republic of South Vietnam for heroism. Equels’ service is documented in a Florida Social Studies book for elementary school children where his exploits are recounted and he is honored as a “State Hero.”
“I think it is important to correct this ‘baby killer’ stereotype, a falsehood that has been so unjustifiably used to demonize the honorable service of so many Vietnam veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth for most of us,” said Equels. “I can tell you why I served. I was a 19-year-old idealist who believed in creating a world where all peoples could enjoy the democratic freedoms of religion, speech, political association and self governance, the democratic virtues that make America great. Many forget that the totalitarian communist regimes of that time vigorously suppressed and criminalized all these important rights that we take for granted.”
“When I returned from Vietnam, I became a lawyer, determined to devote a part of my practice to social justice,” added Equels. “I still think that we can change the world for the better, a little bit at a time, by dealing with everyday matters that are within our power and abilities. No matter how difficult things become, the willingness of brave citizens to serve is what counts. It is vital to the preservation of liberty and our democratic institutions. But, it is just as vital that the sacrifices of those who served be honored and respected and not defamed. That is why I am so grateful to the lawyers at GrayRobinson for their help in correcting this injustice.”
Equels' devotion to community service and social justice is well established. As a result of his dedication and commitment to inspiring others to act on behalf of the poor, the needy and the disenfranchised, Equels has been the recipient of several outstanding leadership awards and prestigious accolades.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference twice honored him with the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Award in 1984 and 1995. In 1987, he received both The Florida Bar Association’
In 2012, Equels was bestowed with The Order of St. Gregory the Great, an ancient Order of Knighthood of the Holy See. This special honor was bestowed by the Pope in recognition of Equels’ extraordinary contributions related to the promotion of social justice and charity.
The Orlando Business Journal presented Equels with the Spirit of America Award in 2014 for his outstanding contribution to the Central Florida community as a military veteran.
Equels and his wife Laura Fabar-Equels, also a lawyer, have formed and funded the Endowment for Social Justice at Florida State University’s College of Law to fund programs and scholarships aimed at promoting social justice through law.