Ernest Medina

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Ernest Medina
Medina's mugshot
Birth nameErnest Lou Medina
Born(1936-08-27)August 27, 1936
Springer, New Mexico, U.S.
DiedMay 8, 2018(2018-05-08) (aged 81)
Marinette, Wisconsin, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1956–1971
Rank Captain
Unit1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division
Commands heldCompany C, 1/20 Americal
Battles/warsVietnam War
AwardsSilver Star
Bronze Star Medal
Commendation Medal

Ernest Lou Medina (August 27, 1936 – May 8, 2018) was a captain of infantry in the United States Army. He served during the Vietnam War. 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. He was court-martialed in 1971 for his role in that massacre, but acquitted the same year.


Ernest Medina was born on August 27, 1936, into a Mexican-American family in Springer, New Mexico. After a variety of post–high school odd jobs, Medina joined the Army in 1956.[1] He served 12 years in the enlisted ranks (including his time in the National Guard) before being commissioned through Officer Candidate School in 1964.[2] Awarded both the Silver Star and Bronze Star Medal, Medina was promoted to captain in 1966 and was given command of Charlie Company in Hawaii, prior to its deployment to Vietnam.[3]


According to the 1970 investigation by General William R. Peers, Medina:[4]

  • "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 impliedly directed the killing of any persons found there."
  • "Possibly killed as many as three noncombatants in My Lai."

Because Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention excluded South Vietnamese civilians (whose nation was a co-belligerent with the U.S.) from the status of protected persons in interstate wars, Medina was instead court-martialed in 1971 under Article 77 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for willingly allowing his men to murder allied civilians at My Lai.[5][6][7][8] Medina denied all the charges and claimed that he never gave any orders to kill Vietnamese noncombatants.

Medina's defense team, led by F. Lee Bailey, and a support staff that included Gary Myers, alleged that his men killed Vietnamese noncombatants 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 the massacre was already well underway.

Medina also strongly denied killing any Vietnamese noncombatant 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 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 to use hidden pistols or grenades to harm or kill American military personnel.

However, a helicopter crew in the area that day would have a different accounting of Medina's actions. A 3-man crew consisting of WO1 Hugh Thompson, Crew Chief Spec 4 Glenn Andreotta & Gunner Lawrence Colburn witnessed the following at the Son My village. Per Lawrence Colburn: "Then we saw a young girl about twenty years old lying on the grass. We could see that she was unarmed and wounded in the chest. We marked her with smoke because we saw a squad not too far away. The smoke was green, meaning it's safe to approach. Red would have meant the opposite. We were hovering six feet off the ground not more than twenty feet away when Captain Medina came over, kicked her, stepped back, and finished her off. He did it right in front of us. When we saw Medina do that, it clicked. It was our guys doing the killing."[9]

In August 1971, Medina was ultimately found not guilty of all charges.[10] His jury deliberations lasted about 60 minutes.

Despite his acquittal, the court martial and negative publicity brought Medina's military career to an end. He resigned his commission and left the Army shortly afterward. He later admitted that, during his court martial, he had "not been completely candid to avoid disgracing the military, the United States, his family, and himself."[11]

After the military[edit]

After resigning from the Army, Medina went to work at an Enstrom Helicopter Corporation plant owned by F. Lee Bailey in Menominee, Michigan.[11] Medina moved with his family to Marinette, Wisconsin. He worked in his family's real estate business: Medina, Inc. Realtor in Marinette, Wisconsin. He died on May 8, 2018, at the age of 81.[12]

Cultural references[edit]

The Vietnam War Song Project has identified two songs referencing Medina.[13] Medina is mentioned in the first stanza of Pete Seeger's Vietnam protest song "Last Train to Nuremberg" (1970), which also referenced Samuel W. Koster, William Calley, and Richard Nixon:

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

Medina is also referenced in the calypso song "The My Lai Incident" (1970) by Trinidad & Tobago artist The Shah:

And a little boy that could be anybody's son was shot down by Medina / A platoon led by Lt. L. Calley.


The ribbon bar of Captain Medina:

Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Army Parachutists Badge
Combat Infantryman Badge
1st Row Silver Star Bronze Star Medal Army Commendation Medal
2nd Row Army Good Conduct Medal
with award clasp
Army of Occupation Medal National Defense Service Medal
3rd Row Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal
with four 3/16 inch service stars
Vietnam Campaign Medal

See also[edit]


  1. ^ linderd. "Biography of Ernest L. Medina".
  2. ^ p. 128 Milam, John R. Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009
  3. ^ p. 725 Tucker, Spencer C. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, 2nd Edition [4 volumes]: A Political, Social, and Military History ABC-CLIO, 20 May 2011
  4. ^ "Peers Report: Captain Ernest Medina". Archived from the original on May 8, 1999. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  5. ^ James E. Bond. "Protection of Non-combatants in Guerrilla Wars". William & Mary Law School. 12 (787): 788–789.
  6. ^ Gary D. Solis (April 18, 2016). The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War. Cambridge University Press. p. 252-253. ISBN 9-7811-0713-5604.
  7. ^ The Army Lawyer. Judge Advocate General's School. p. 13.
  8. ^ "Judge Howard's summary of the evidence surrounding the crucial question of knowledge in United States v. Captain Ernest L. Medina". Archived from the original on June 24, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Colburn, Larry (2003). "They Were Butchering People". Retrieved March 8, 2023.
  10. ^ "1971 Year in Review". December 28, 1971. Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  11. ^ a b linderd. "Biography of Ernest L. Medina". Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  12. ^ "Ernest L. Medina". Eagle Herald. May 10, 2018. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  13. ^ Brummer, Justin. "Vietnam War: My Lai & Lt. William Calley Songs". RYM. Retrieved May 22, 2023.

External links[edit]