Ernest Medina

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Ernest Medina
Born (1936-08-27) August 27, 1936 (age 77)
Springer, New Mexico
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Captain
Unit 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry of the 11th Brigade, Americal Division
Commands held Company C, 1/20 Americal
Battles/wars Vietnam War

Ernest Lou Medina (born August 27, 1936) is a former captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War and was acquitted in a court-martial of war crimes charges in 1971. He was the commanding officer of Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry of the 11th Brigade, Americal Division, the unit responsible for the My Lai Massacre of 16 March 1968.


Ernest Medina was born into a Mexican-American family in Springer, New Mexico. He was known as a "tough, able soldier" who had excelled as a non-commissioned officer, and graduated fourth in his class of two hundred at Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia.


According to the 1970 investigation by General William R. Peers, Medina:[1]

  • Informed his men that any of the residents in Son My Village might be Viet Cong or sympathizers. This caused many of the men in his company to believe they would find only armed enemy in the hamlets and directly contributed to the killing of non-combatants which followed.
  • Planned, ordered, and supervised the execution by his company of an unlawful operation against inhabited hamlets in Son My Village, which included the destruction of houses by burning, killing of livestock, and the destruction of crops and other foodstuffs, and the closing of wells; and implicitly directed the killing of any persons found there.
  • Possibly personally killed as many as three non-combatants in My Lai.
  • Actively suppressed information concerning the killing of non-combatants in Son My Village.

Captain Medina was court-martialed in 1971 for willingly allowing his men to murder My Lai non-combatants.[2] Medina denied all the charges, and claimed that he never gave any orders to kill Vietnamese non-combatants. Medina's defense team, led by F. Lee Bailey, alleged that his men killed Vietnamese non-combatants under their own volition and not under Medina's orders. Medina also testified that he did not become aware that his troops were out of control at My Lai until it was too late.

Medina also strongly denied killing any Vietnamese non-combatant at My Lai, with the exception of a young woman whom two soldiers testified that they found hiding in a ditch. When she emerged with her hands held up Medina shot her because, he claimed, he thought she had a grenade. In fact she was unarmed. The defense lawyers brought up many incidents during the Vietnam War of Viet Cong suspects and sympathizers faking surrender in order to use hidden pistols or grenades to harm or kill American military personnel.

In August 1971, Medina was ultimately found not guilty of all charges relating to the deaths of more than 500 South Vietnamese civilians in the massacre.[3] His trial deliberations lasted approximately 60 minutes. Nevertheless, his military career was finished and Medina resigned from the U.S. Army shortly thereafter.

Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader serving in Medina's company during the massacre and who claimed he was following orders from Medina, was found guilty of various crimes. Calley ultimately served 3½ years of house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia and was released in 1974 by a federal judge.


After resigning from the army, Medina went to work at an Enstrom Helicopter Corporation plant owned by F. Lee Bailey in Menominee, Michigan.[4] He lives in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Cultural references[edit]

Medina is mentioned by name in the first stanza of Pete Seeger's Vietnam protest song "Last Train to Nuremberg" (1970).

"Do I see Lieutenant Calley? Do I see Captain Medina? Do I see Gen'ral Koster and all his crew?"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Peers Report: Captain Ernest Medina". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  2. ^ "Judge Howard's summary of the evidence surrounding the crucial question of knowledge in United States v. Captain Ernest L. Medina". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  3. ^ "1971 Year in Review". 1971-12-28. Retrieved 2011-06-18. 
  4. ^ linderd. "Biography of Ernest L. Medina". Retrieved 2011-06-18. 

External links[edit]