Ernest Medina

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Ernest Medina
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 of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1956–1971
RankUS-O3 insignia.svg 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 war crime, 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, Americal Division 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."

Medina was court-martialed in 1971 for willingly allowing his men to murder noncombatants.[5] 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.

In August 1971, Medina was ultimately found not guilty of all charges.[6] 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."[7]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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?


Here is 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 1999-05-08. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  5. ^ "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 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  6. ^ "1971 Year in Review". 1971-12-28. Archived from the original on 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  7. ^ a b linderd. "Biography of Ernest L. Medina". Archived from the original on 2010-11-25. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  8. ^ "Ernest L. Medina". Eagle Herald. May 10, 2018. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2018.

External links[edit]