Testimony from the 1969-1979 Peers Inquiry solves the mystery of the button: the image actually captures these women and children in the moments between a sexual assault and mass murder. In his inquiry testimony, Haeberle explains that a group of soldiers were trying to “see what she was made of,” and that they “started stripping her, taking her top off,” Additional testimony from the investigation confirms this.
According to testimony of Jay Roberts, the Army Journalist who had accompanied Haeberle that day, the soldiers were calling the teenager “V.C. Boom Boom”—the colloquial term for a Vietcong prostitute during Vietnam. Continuing, Roberts revealed that the older woman appears so anguished because she was trying to protect the girl from being assaulted by the soldiers. Roberts stated that the older woman, who he presumed to be the girl’s mother, had been “biting and kicking and scratching and fighting off” the group of soldiers. The emotion on the face of the older woman in the foreground is not one of passive terror.