Retired Lt. Gen. Orwin C. Talbott, a former Fort Benning commander who decided to try Lt. William Calley in the 1968 My Lai Massacre, died April 26 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after he was stricken by a heart attack.
He was 92.
“He was a good man, he was an ethical man, he was a man of integrity,” said former Columbus Mayor and retired Army Col. Bob Poydasheff. “He was well respected by all of us.”
Talbott served as commander at Fort Benning from 1969-1973. After taking over as commander of the Infantry School, Talbott decided to try Calley in the slayings of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.
During a court-martial at Fort Benning, Calley was convicted in 1971 of killing 22 civilians in the massacre of 500 men, women and children. Although he was sentenced to life in prison, he only served more than three years under house arrest.
Calley apologized for the slayings two years ago while speaking to a small group of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus.
Poydasheff and Carmen Cavezza, retired lieutenant general and former commander at Fort Benning, praised Talbott’s decision to try Calley.
“It was the right thing to do based on all the facts and circumstances that was available to him and the recommendations of the staffs,” said Poydasheff, who was chief of civil law for the Army at the time and defended an assistant division commander in connection with an investigation of the massacre. “He did the right thing.”
Talbott made a tough decision but it was the right one, said Cavezza, who’s now director of the Cunningham Center for Leadership Development at Columbus State University.
“It was a controversial decision because it had a lot of people, especially locally, saying all is fair in war kind of thing,” Cavezza said. “As time goes on and as more information came out, it was the right decision.”
The general’s son, Stephen Talbott of Bay Village, Ohio, said they didn’t have a detailed conversation about My Lai but he thinks his father felt the case was strong.
“He said he came from Vietnam and probably in September 1969, he said it was the first order of business, the very first thing they brought up,” the son said.
Talbott was born in 1918 in San Jose, Calif. After graduating from Los Molinos High School in 1936, he attended the University of California-Berkeley but didn’t graduate. After joining the military, he graduated from the Army’s Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the National War College in Washington.
Talbott was an infantry commander on Utah Beach on June 7, 1944, during the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II. His troop ship, the Susan B. Anthony, sank after it struck mines.
He served as an executive officer during the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the first days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
He retired in 1975. In 1994, Talbott introduced then-President Bill Clinton during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
During his military career, Talbott received the Combat Infantry Badge, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Soldier’s Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion d’honneur, the French Croix de Guerre and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm.
Other than his son, survivors include his wife, Nell Coughran Talbott, a daughter; Marinel Mukherjee of Freehold, N.J.; and a sister, Marilyn Carroll of Indianapolis.
Talbott will be buried at a later date in Arlington National Cemetery.